home again, home again

i recently got back from a trip down to visit my sister in gainesville, florida, and came away with not only a whole pile of great memories, but a few very distinct revelations about travel.

before i left, i had a lot of anxiety about the trip in general – all the complications of travel on my own with my disiblitites. i realized (a forehead smacking moment) that i was worried about traveling with my power wheelchair. i was certain that one or more parts would end up in another city, thus rendering the chair useless, and leaving me stuck with no way to get around. the simple solution? i located a mobility product shop in gainesville, and rented a scooter to be waiting for me when i got there. i made sure i rented a model that could fit into the back of my sister’s honda escape – problem solved.

as for getting around airports between flights, it is is easy to arrange to be met at each point by an attendant with a wheelchair – someone to help me from the door of the plane to the gate of the connecting flight, onto that plane, and etc. it was a great way to be further reminded that people – given the opportunity – are really very nice. there were plenty of offers of help at every stop. i really only had one complaint – i think a pretty huge one.

while, again, the people were great, the wheelchairs supplied by the airport in atlanta were just plain wrong on so many levels. first, they do not have hand wheels, so i had no way to move the chair without someone to push. second, when the attendant lets go of the handle at the back of the chair, it sets a brake so that when i tried putting my feet down and pushing, i could not move the chair. the brake lever was completely out of my reach. not only is this inconvenient, i can imagine several scenarios where it could become dangerous. i had a two hour layover in atlanta, and had only had a tiny bag of peanuts early that morning. i was sitting in my immobile chair directly across from a fast-food stand, and desperately wanted a burger. i had to flag down a passing skycap (or whatever they are called) to wheel me over and through the line. he was very nice, and patient, and obviously had somewhere else he was supposed to be. not only was this process a little humiliating, as if i could not be trusted to make the transaction on my own, it was a waste of his time.

another strange thing – i had a male driver who politely asked me if i needed to stop at the rest room, which i did, but he told me he was not allowed to wheel me into the room. i had to heave myself up and “wall-walk” into the bathroom and into the stall, and then back out. made no sense to me. how they deal with a passenger who is unable to walk at all i can’t imagine.

again, there were plenty of people to assist me, and everyone was very nice, and i appreciated being escorted between the plane and the gate (i’d’a gotten horribly lost on my own), but finding myself essentially trapped in this wheelchair that i could not drive on my own was humiliating (felt like i was being treated like an untrustworthy child), inconvenient (couldn’t go get a snack or browse the bookstore to kill time, etc.), and could easily have been dangerous (what if there had been a fire? or if i had a sudden NEED to get to the bathroom?).

the only other complaint from the whole trip was a visit to a public rest room in st. agustine that was designated as wheelchair accessible – but wasn’t even close. i could barely fit the scooter (a very small one at that) into the stall, but once in, i couldn’t close the door or get off the scooter, and had to back out (snapping a chunk off the tissue dispenser in the process.) whoever had decided this was an accessible bathroom had obviously never been in a wheelchair before.

it was a great trip overall, with a few complaints that didn’t in any way dampen my pleasure. a few lessons learned. there is more to say, and i will return with more thoughts and observations on spending a week immersed in a vastly different culture and place than i am used to. happy spring!


Author: Stephen

Stephen Harris is a writer, painter and a photographer who lives with his family in Maine.

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