[Ohio-talk] An open letter to blind airport travelers

Barbara Pierce bpierce at oberlin.net
Tue Dec 16 17:01:47 UTC 2014

Dear David,

This is a good summary of how to travel in an airport. I would quibble with your remarks about wheelchair users. My attitude is that we should use the accommodations that we need and refuse those that we do not need. At one time I had back trouble and used electric carts. I was grateful for them and did not feel uncomfortable using that accommodation. I think wheelchair users understand that we do not need that accommodation and that we are trying to educate the sky caps about blindness when we refuse them.

Barbara Pierce
President Emerita
National Federation of the Blind of Ohio
bpierce at oberlin.net

On Dec 16, 2014, at 9:23 AM, David Cohen via Ohio-talk <ohio-talk at nfbnet.org> wrote:

> Dear Blind Travelers of  Airports Who Speak The Same Complaints About
> Airport Practices For The Last 25 Years,
> One way to avoid being presented with a wheelchair experience is to
> arrive with a guide dog or a fully-dressed mannequin under your arm.
> Maybe stop making such a big deal about wheelchairs and remember that
> many members of the federation live their lives in wheelchairs.  Maybe
> such members dislike the negative sentiment expressed about
> wheelchairs?  Maybe they think you are being unfair and discriminatory
> about people who use wheelchairs?
> Here’s some suggestions I have based on my own experience traveling in
> airports both with a guide dog and with a cane.
> 1. Travel as light as possible.  Take a suitcase that you can
> roll/pull behind you.  Use a book bag or backpack.
> 2. No matter where you get dropped off listen to the other travelers
> around you.  Listen for their projected directional sound and listen
> for doors opening or revolving.  Listen for the ritualistic
> conversation of airport employees.  “Hi folks… Where you going today?”
> Approach this person and take control of your situation. In short,
> pay attention.
> 3. When you get inside stop and lift the cover of your Braille watch
> or pull out your compact and make like you’re involved and listen
> again to what is around you.  Throw your smartphone in the nearest
> waste can.  Listen to the movement of the majority of people.  People
> are followers of routine and creatures of habit just ask your dog and
> cat.  Listen to those coming in the same doors behind you and turn and
> ask one such person who is probably also just arriving to give you the
> general direction of the check-in area.  Now listen in that direction.
> 3.5 Don’t let someone give you specific directions.  Use your arm or
> hand to signal the general direction if someone speaks the language of
> “there,” or “to your left… I mean my left… Oh I’m terrible with
> direction.”  Follow the other people you hear on this line of moving
> sound. You don’t need specifics here and nobody can give you audible
> or tactilly-specific directions except another adept blind person
> probably because well… seeing people don’t see what is around them
> most of the time like airport diagrams or maps hanging on walls.
> 4. Walk in this direction and listen to what is moving around you.
> Notice landmarks like the sound of toilets flushing, the change from
> tile to carpeting or the sound of elevator bells etc.  Eavesdrop on
> any and all conversations around you.  Sighted folk get unnerved and
> become strangely inept if someone just mentions airport travel and
> they have signs to read but do not read them because they are looking
> for eye-candy.  Why would any reasonable person stop to take five
> minutes to study an airport diagram?
> 5. When you arrive to the check-in area for your particular airline
> good luck with the guide ropes.  I most often lift and go under.  The
> engineering patent for such is held by BSVI and SSB agencies
> nationwide in order to further annoy and help blind people I’m sure so
> there’s no bother in contesting this.
> 5.5 Try to enjoy what you are doing.  Look at this as a sort of NFB
> training center drop-off.  Be ready to smile back at someone who asks
> you anything.  Use a thumb to ask left or right to move through the
> bloody guide ropes.  You will project that which you feel: fear,
> reservation, confrontation, self-pity and self-righteousness and this
> will be returned to you.
> 6. When positioned in line speak to the person in front of you, find
> their heel with the end of your cane and listen to the movement of the
> line and the number of attendants working behind the check-in counter.
> 6.5 When facing the check-in representative ask for the gate number
> and concourse number or letter that is designated.  Listen to the man
> or woman beside you at the counter asking for the same information and
> directions to security and pay attention to the answer and compare the
> directional movement of everybody you’ve listened to while you waited
> in line and gain confirmation.  Offer my contact information to all
> brunette airline stewardesses when on board your plane.
> 7. Now listen to the direction in which the people who have completed
> their check-in move away from the counter.  They are probably going to
> the main hallway that leads everyone to security.  Who likes to tour
> airports? People go to airports to leave airports.
> 8.  Line up in the security check-in and surrender for a handful of
> minutes all the pride you have and again listen to the conversations
> around you.  Someone in this line might ask for the same information
> you need to direct yourself beyond the security checkpoint.
> 9.  Maybe ask the people in line around you if one is also traveling
> to Transylvania as well? Organize and remove all of your metal ahead
> of time. Put it inside your shoulder bag before you arrive.  Swallow
> your watch or your money clip.
> 10. If given a choice of multiple concourses ask how many different
> concourses exist.  Ask if the concourses is arranged in any order.
> IE. Even and odd numbers or A through E to the left and F through J to
> the right.  Take time to explain the first 10 letters and numbers of
> the Braille code and how uniquely simple and logical it is.
> 11. After locating your concourse listen to all the people moving like
> the walks-fast people we are and politely ask what gate such a person
> is heading to.  Ask if odd numbered gates is on the left or the right.
> Ask who won the Cavs game last night. Ask why technology has advanced
> in every aspect except efficiency?
> 12. All concourses are concourses.  These function like hamster cage
> tubing only they are square instead of cylindrical.  Stay within the
> directional flow of the people around you who are departing.  We move
> on the right side of hallways just as we drive on the right side of
> the streets.  In England etc. guide dogs are held in the right hand
> because traffic comes directionally from the left.
> 13. Listen to the sound of the televisions that have to be by law
> turned on and blaring CNN or FOX news to you so you don’t forget to
> complain about the media.  Listen to the public address voice speak
> information that such and such a flight is ready for boarding at Gate
> 1, 4, 44 or 48 and know you are in the area of this gate.
> 14. Pay attention to the youths who are standing prostrated with
> clasped hands in prayer posture over their smartphones in the middle
> of the concourse oblivious to others.  When you hear one of them
> engaged this way lower your shoulder and take him or her out.  Pay
> attention to the same nitwit who is approaching you while looking at a
> smartphone and not looking straight ahead when walking and impale this
> person on the end of your cane.  Have an extra cane tip to replace the
> old one you’ve now sacrificed for the betterment of humanity.
> 15. The truth about airports, shopping malls and baseball stadiums is
> that each and every one of them is more or less the same design.  The
> architecture inside hasn’t changed since the Roman Coliseum was
> erected.  The difference is only eye-candy and not distracting to
> blind people who are taking in only that which they know is necessary
> to get from A to B.  The concourse hallways do not jockey for position
> like racing horses.  Security checkpoint is always positioned between
> ticket counter checkin points and the concourse and the ticket
> counters is conveniently located near the entrances especially when
> you are in Dayton International airport along with the 12 other people
> using the airport that day.
> 16.  If you cannot travel independently in an airport pay your reader
> to take you as far as he or she can inside the airport and for God’s
> sake stop trying to change the mass of humanity to suit your
> individual life experiences.
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