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Friday, April 30, 2010

Smoothing the Way--How Long Will it Take

A few days ago the New York Times published an odd story about travel for people with disabilities. In "Smoothing the Way" by Tanya Mohn I was amazed she acknowledged that "people with disabilities never have an easy time traveling". However, I was bitterly disappointed by the second part of her sentence--"a rash of recent improvements including more wheelchair taxis and rental vehicles... have made it easier". This assessment is correct. More taxis at airports will transport people with a disability. More rent-a-car companies have cars with hand controls. What is not acknowledged is the quality of these ordinary services. Sure I can get a taxi at any airport. That does not mean the driver will be happy or even make the pretense I am an ordinary passenger. It does not mean he will not try to rip me off via turning on the meter before I enter the car or well after I exit. Similarly, airline personnel routinely consider passengers with a disability to be extra work and are not hesitate to makes this point clear. Rudeness is the norm and I feel as though I have the plague when I fly. If I assert my rights, I am deemed difficult. The fact what I request, pre boarding for instance, is a matter of law and has been for nearly two decades is of no consequence. I am simply a pain in the ass for an overworked employee.

While I could write pages about my dislike for airlines, I have a special ire for car rental companies. When I rent a car I would estimate 50% of the time the vehicle with hand controls is not present. The company does not mater--Hertz, Avis, National, Enterprise all screw up. Each and every time I rent a car with hand controls it is as though it has never been done before. I also go to extremes--I call 48 hours in advance, call the night before, and morning of the rental to confirm the car with hand controls. I get assurances with each call but the car is never there when I need it. One would imagine this is not a complicated request. The only good thing about not having a car ready to go when I arrive is the free upgrade or steep discount for my inconvenience. But I would gladly trade this for a car when desired. In other words, I wish to be treated like an ordinary customer.

Travel has been on my mind as I am just back from the conference in Baltimore. I think the conference went well. It was well attended and I met many people in the health care profession that clearly care about disability. I hope this care and concern will some day filter down to the care people with a disability receive when accessing health care. What amazed me about the trip was how problem free it was--a rarity. The hotel room was accessible and parking quite easy. The conference presented no barriers--in fact the organizers were on top of every access issue imaginable. I was treated with respect from beginning to end. Wow, I wish all my trips went as smoothly. Sadly, I know this is not the norm even though it should be. On the drive home and upon reading the article in the New York Times mentioned above I cannot help but wonder why travel remains so problematic for people with disabilities. Is it a numbers game? Are there too few of us for airlines, hotels, and car companies to care? I think not. The numbers often quoted in the mainstream media indicate people with a disability that travel has increased significantly. What I think is going on is a culture clash--people with a disability are not expected to travel, assert their rights and certainly not be treated equally. Our presence is an afront to others and the travel industry does not respect us as a group. The result is inferior if not bad service and I assure you travel is rarely smooth or trouble free. In fact what struck me the most about my recent trip was the fact it was trouble free. I thus realized I assume trouble will take place whenever I travel. This is my norm. A norm that must change and I would argue we have a long way to travel to make this happen (sorry for the bad pun).


Becs said...

What does the NY Times have against people with disabilities? Yesterday (Sun, May 2), I read a story about yet another brave cripple. The Times would fiercely deny its bigotry, but let's be honest - would they run a piece about a friend of mine who suffered a horrific childhood, was sexually assaulted twice, and divorced her abusive husband? No. But if she were in a wheelchair, maybe.

Hm. Hypocrisy and bigotry, something I would not have associated with the Times, but the spate of articles about brave cripples proves otherwise.

william Peace said...

Like the rest of society, the NYT is ignorant with regard to disability issues and relies on stories that will attract readers. What stories attract readers? Why people that overcome their disability. Sadly this misses the point--the obstacles are not physical but social. But who really wants to think after reading their newspaper over coffee in the morning? Yikes, I sound cranky! The NYT has published a series of very bad articles on disability that have me in a bad mood.

Liz said...

"What I think is going on is a culture clash--people with a disability are not expected to travel, assert their rights and certainly not be treated equally. "

You explain this with perfect clarity. Thanks.

I generally feel that the bad behavior of airport and airline staff makes more inconvenience and delay and bother for everyone around - for them and for all the passengers - than if they'd just treat us with respect.


william Peace said...

Liz, Airline travel is always a misery. If personnel were allowed more freedom and the ability to act independently I think life would be easier for all people. But airlines rely heavily on protocol rather than common sense. When you don't fit in, i.e. use a wheelchair, problems invariably arise despite the fact simple solutions exist. I tend to think Delta has the worst mind set-I call Delta workers "Deltoids" in that they robotically follow rules.