[Ohio-talk] Deborah Kendrick Column Please read

Eric Duffy peduffy63 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 5 21:09:35 UTC 2015

This is a good read. The problem Deborah describes continues to be a problem for many of us. Spread the word. Let people know that Deborah’s experience is not an    isolated incident. . 


Deborah Kendrick commentary: Airports can mean humiliation for some travelers. A recent midnight flight from San Francisco to Cincinnati held the elements all blind travelers dread most: The moment when one disability is mistaken for another, and deep-rooted misconceptions engender humiliation. When the last plane landed, I'd been traveling for 13 hours. It was 11:00 a.m., and I was exhausted. Here is the scenario. My ride home is in the cell phone lot. I ask the gate agent if someone can walk with me. This is a simple enough request and one I have made hundreds of times in dozens of airports. I am a blind person carrying a long white cane. My request is for someone to walk with me who knows the way. The gate agent is smart, courteous, eager to assist. She makes the call. ... And another. ... And another. When five minutes has gone by, I am impatient. At ten, I am agitated. At twenty, with a red-eye flight behind me and the knowledge that my ride home is just a few minutes' walk away, I am close to meltdown. I hear the agent say into the phone, "No, she doesn't need a wheelchair. Just needs someone to walk with her. At 25 minutes, the somewhat embarrassed gate agent comes over where I am leaning on the wall, trying not to cry, wishing I weren't so tired and could just start walking, exploring, figuring it out. "The problem," she informs me, "is that they won't come unless you will sit in the wheelchair. She is apologetic, sees the folly of this supposed "rule". But I am ready to disassemble with fatigue and humiliation and thus I acquiesce. The young woman who comes with the wheelchair tells me that if I don't sit in it, she will be fired. She will either leave me here or I will ride. I sit down. For the half-mile distance from gate to exit, I pray no one sees me who knows me. Don't get me wrong. There is no shame in using a wheelchair. For my friends who use them with purpose, the wheelchair is a tool of freedom and flight and euphoria. No, for me, the shame was rooted in the fear that others would think me a shirker, a faker, a jerk able to walk who commandeered some deserving passenger's wheelchair. The subtext here, the message conveyed, is this: Because I happen to be blind, I am not worthy of the same respect as any other paying passenger. If I need assistance, I will shut up, sit down, be addressed like a child (or piece of furniture), and be grateful. This, regrettably, is not an isolated incident. I have scores of stories from others - blind lawyers, athletes, and CEO's -- recounting similar nightmares. Kaiti Shelton, a University of Dayton music therapy major, returned from a college abroad trip in June. The emotional high sparked by success in another country, the joy of having been treated as an equal by the residents there and her fellow college students, plummeted quickly in an American airport. She, too, was given the ultimatum "no wheelchair, no assistance. Eric Duffy of Columbus, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, says the wheelchair argument has happened more times than he can count. "I can be coming back from a powerfully positive experience, meeting with members of Congress on Capitol Hill or participating in negotiations with other leaders, and then the [emotional] balance shifts at the airport. The disrespect leaves me feeling insulted and angry. The only consistency in flying, if you happen to be blind, is inconsistency. Sometimes, the curb to curb process is rich with encounters of mutual respect, jumpstarting your business trip or vacation with a general love of humankind. Another time, the misconceptions held by airport workers result in degradation. You are grabbed, pulled, talked about in the third person, and given inappropriate "assistance". One TSA worker might allow you to move through the line without any particular notice, while another wants to hold your hands and talk to you in the sing-song tones reserved for preschoolers. One flight attendant might order you into the bulkhead row while another just as quickly orders you out of it. One day you might ask for someone to walk to the gate with you and the employee who arrives is so engaging that you have exchanged life stories by the time you arrive. And another day, the request results in a stripping of dignity. Disability awareness varies widely from one airline/airport to another. Not surprisingly, that difference seems to be in direct correlation to the source of training for employees. If you want to know how best to treat people with disabilities, ask them. And then listen to what they say. Deborah Kendrick is a Cincinnati writer and advocate for people with disabilities. . 

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