The automatic check in machine told me that I had to go to Special Services in order to get a gate tag for my wheelchair. A woman, working for the airline, said that she'd take me over to where it was and I asked if we could wait until Joe was back from returning the rental car. She said to just let her know. Joe arrived and I called out to her and she turned and left. We tried to ask several other employees how to find Special Services and they blew us off making it clear that they were busy helping their real customers, you know, the kind that walk. It was as if they were announcing that they didn't do special services so fuck off. Finally we found it, It's not in an easy place to find.
When we went in, I was asked how our morning had been, and I had lots to say. The woman stood listening like she'd been trained to but her face showed no interest in what I was saying. She then said that, now that I was done complaining, she would start the process to get us on our way. I stopped her and said that she could start the process by promising me she would bring this forward. Given that their space is difficult to find, people need to be willing to tell disabled passengers where it is. She said that she would tell the managers that I was unhappy.
"UNHAPPY?" I exploded. What on earth does my feeling unhappy have to do with any of this. I wanted her to tell the managers that their staff brushed off disabled customers as if we were unimportant and that able bodied passengers were the only ones deserving of their attention. I wanted her to tell the managers that disabled travelers, who have the most difficulty with mobility have to go way out of their way to find a place that cannot be seen until several turns have been made, need to have clear directions. We are not an inconvenience. She listened again with the patience of someone who went to training on how to listen and said that she would do as I asked without any intention on follow through.
I often advise disabled people to speak up.
But I am reminded that disabled voices, like disabled lives, are devalued and dismissed.
I know that my concerns won't be brought forward, but, my comfort is that it won't be because I didn't speak. I live, as a disabled person, in a world where I need to state my right to space and my right to service and my right to be a customer over and over and over again until I find one person who listens with care and compassion and who couples those things with a desire to make change.
They are out there.
But that wasn't who was on shift that day.