lo·gis·tics[loh-jis-tiks, luh-]the planning, implementation, and coordination of the details of a business or other operation.
Disabled travel is all about logistics. When I’m at home, it takes planning, implementation and coordination of details just to get through the day. But home is a relatively static and predictable environment.On the road, every activity is untested, untried, and fraught with logistical challenges.
With disabled travel, there are the macro-logistics, such as flying in an airplane, and there are the micro-logistics, such as getting close enough to the hotel’s bathroom sink to brush your teeth. Each travel day is filled with planning, creativity, persistence, and most of all – patience.
It’s so much easier to just stay home.But hey, where’s the challenge in that?
I knew from previous experience that the best place for me to sit on a Southwest Airlines plane was in the front aisle seat, on the right-hand side. This seat selection has served me well because it is easy to transfer from the special aisle wheelchair (pictured to the left) into this airplane seat, and because this seat is nearest the fore bathroom. In the past, if I was close enough to the bathroom I could manage to get there in a pinch.
However, on my most recent plane trip, due to another year’s worth of disease progression, there would be no hope of getting to the bathroom unassisted, even in a pinch.
So I plopped into my customary seat at the front of the plane, and shortly after takeoff I asked Kim to check out both the fore and aft bathrooms for me.They each had a handicapped symbol on the door, but they were both as tiny as could be. So what qualified them as handicapped accessible? I guess it was the handrail beside the toilet.
I quizzed the flight attendant. “What if I need to use that bathroom?" I asked, pointing to the front of the plane.
"We have an onboard aisle wheelchair that we can transfer you to, and then we we'll wheel you to the door of the bathroom, and you will have to transfer in.” Note that the aisle wheelchair would not fit into the bathroom at all.
I think this may have been logistically possible, but in my mind it was highly undesirable, as the other 150 passengers on the flight would be gawking at me the entire time.Kim might even have to stand at the open door and help me with my trousers.I just didn’t know.Maybe it would be slick.Maybe it would be a fiasco.I’m not typically self-conscious about being disabled in public, but I have my limits.
As a precaution, I had refrained from drinking any fluids on the morning of my flight.On our two hour flight from Manchester, New Hampshire to Chicago, I made it okay. In the Chicago airport I used the bathroom, and again refrained from drinking liquids in anticipation of my four hour flight to Las Vegas. Again, it worked. On the return flights I was once again able to manage my bladder accordingly.
Don't get me wrong; I love Southwest Airlines. In all other respects they take great care of me when I travel. I seriously doubt whether any airplanes actually have real wheelchair accessible bathrooms. Readers, do you know of any?
The entire service industry is woefully unprepared to discuss individual access issues with disabled people or their caregivers. I spoke with two separate Southwest customer service personnel in the weeks leading up to the flight, but they both had it wrong.Each of them assured me that at least one bathroom on every plane was truly wheelchair accessible.This is a common overgeneralization.The term “wheelchair accessible” has as many shades and colors as the leaves in this photo.
For example, I will sometimes call a restaurant that I've never been to and ask them if they are wheelchair accessible. If they say yes, I ask for details. I try to engage them in a conversation about how I would get from the street to my table, and from my table to the bathroom. I don't know how many times I've been somewhat satisfied by the discussion, only to encounter a surprise when I get there. Maybe there is a hallway that is too narrow, or maybe there is a bathroom stall door that opens in instead of out. It can be quite frustrating, but not so frustrating that I vow to “just stay home next time.”
I appreciate how difficult it must be for customer service personnel to put themselves in the mindset of a disabled person.But I wish they would do a better job of it, if not for everyone, then at least for me J
Before my diagnosis I had a Chemical Engineering degree, an MBA, and a promising career. I had an amazing wife and two wonderful children (still do). I had a nice house with a swimming pool, a big lawn, and a bunch of toys. I was living the dream. I enjoyed a variety of physical activities such as golf, camping, hunting…driving, typing, and dressing myself. Then one day as I was jogging on my treadmill I noticed that my left foot went slap, slap, on the treadmill, whereas my right foot smoothly transitioned from heel to toe, heel to toe. After a year of visits to an assortment of specialists, I was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, a particularly disabling variety of MS. Twelve years later I sit here in my power wheelchair, dictating to my computer because my hands won’t allow me to type more than a couple of words. I can’t work anymore, and my wife now doubles as my caregiver. I’ve started this blog to help me pass the time while engaged in a productive activity- advocating for the disabled community, of which I am now a reluctant member. I am Mitch, and despite everything I am still Enjoying the Ride.