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No I Don't Need A Wheelchair Stories From The Airport

Written by: Dave Bahr, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Blind at the Airport: "No, I Don't Need a Wheelchair. Thank You."


Alt text for image: Long, wide airport hallway with white walls and gray speckled tiles. Several travelers are seen in the distance walking in the opposite direction of the camera. About 20 empty, red airport wheelchairs are haphazardly lined against the right wall.

As a totally blind person, one thing remains constant in my travel experience: people don’t quite know what to do with those of us who have disabilities. And I understand. It’s not easy to know what to do when traversing unfamiliar ground. However, some responses strike me as bizarre, especially with how often they repeat themselves. In particular, I want to touch on this airport anomaly:


Without fail, every time I go to the airport and ask for assistance – just a guide to get me to my gate – the inevitable question is asked, "Do you need a wheelchair?" The first few times this happened, I was a bit surprised and a smidge baffled. Couldn’t they see that I walked here on my own? So I answered, "No, thank you." But as this kept repeating itself time after time, a longer answer began taking shape in my mind: “My legs work fine, it's the eyes that don't do a damn thing." A whole lotta snark, low patience, and some obviously brewing frustration.


While I've never given that answer straight out, it's been very tempting. This is mainly due to the fact that I get asked an average of 5 times per airport visit if I need a wheelchair – I’ve counted. And, depending on the mood I’m in, if I'm in a rush to get to the gate or something, it feels like an annoyance at the best and a roadblock at the worst.


Why do they ask the question in the first place? Well, I think it's reflexive honestly, stemming from the desire to help me, but just not being sure how. They see someone who is different, and they've been conditioned to surmise that usually, people like me are the ones who need wheelchairs. So, I think after a certain point, it becomes a habit to ask whomever looks slightly different, whether they walk differently or use a cane or guide dog or whatever. It just becomes an automatic response.


For that reason, I do my best to not get too annoyed – even after being asked the same question several times in a row. I just smile politely and keep insisting, “No, I don't need a chair. Just a guide.” After a while, I feel like a broken record too. But the truly irksome point of the matter is that this situation is happening because airport employees are not provided applicable training or education in order to handle situations such as mine.


Employees should be taught that not everyone who has a disability needs a wheelchair. Disabilities are not cookie-cutters. In the same vein, assisting people with different disabilities requires different forms of assistance. Educating employees on how blind people interact with their environment, how to guide them, how to respect their guide dogs, how to respect their bodily autonomy, and which questions to ask can make a big difference for people like me.


Unfortunately, I find myself wondering if it will ever change. Again, I know the wheelchair thing is just an impulsive question after a while. It's like baggers at the supermarket asking, "Paper or plastic," or any other nearly-robotic response that they say without thinking about it. And I don't know what the TSA training looks like concerning people with disabilities, but I want to – and if anyone has further insight on this, do let me know. In order to preserve the integrity and independence of people with disabilities, some changes need to be made.


It boils down to the fact that, while the people who push wheelchairs on everyone with a disability have good intentions, they are still lumping all people with disabilities into one category. With a little education and by asking the right questions, the airport experience for myself and others like me could be easily evolved in every way. I ask that people take a few seconds to think, reconsider the situation at hand, and then understand what the person with a disability is asking. In short: Stop, Look, and Listen!


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Dave Bahr, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Dave Bahr is an author, speaker, and comedian focused on demystifying the public's perception of interacting with people with disabilities. As founder of In-Sightful Living, Dave works as an accessibility consultant, aiding organizations to enhance their systems, environments, events, and cultures to support people with disabilities. Blind from birth, he teaches that having a disability is not a hindrance but an asset. His book, Prave: the Adventures of the Blind and the Brittle, is an Amazon 1 bestseller and has received awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. His coaching program Stop Look and Listen is a new and innovative approach to helping people perceive their strengths through deep focus and concentrated analysis. Dave enjoys listening to and discussing music and taking in baseball games on the radio when not advocating or coaching.

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