As I’ve talked about briefly on social media and my trip recap last week, I had some serious issues with employees of the airline and the airport. It boiled down to the fact that I have an invisible disability – emphasis on invisible. The people who I interacted with made it very clear that they didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me and that they thought I was trying to get special privileges like wheelchair delivery around the airport and boarding first. This isn’t the first time that this has happened, although it is the first time that it has been to this extent. Since I’ve dealt with issues like this several times over the course of my life, I feel like I know how to respond, and I want to use these experiences to help people who don’t know what to do if this happens to them.
Airport or train station employee – Issues like these often involve for the person who calls for a wheelchair, or someone who works for one of the restaurants or stores within the airport. Most likely, an issue you run into will be from the company (airline, train, bus, etc.) themselves. Most likely, if you are in a position to ask for another employee to assist you, do so. If you run into an issue, try to find out who works on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities) compliance and accessibility issues. You can reach out to them and explain what happened and how you would prefer it to go differently. Most likely, they won’t be able to do anything retroactively to help, but just making them aware of what happened will hopefully prevent something similar to happen to someone else in the future.
Airline or bus or train company employee – These are more likely to be prevalent because – at least for flying – the airline employees are the ones that you will deal with most often. For example, when I flew last, I talked to airline employees when I first walked it, when I checked in, when my wheelchair was pushed, when I boarded the plane, on the plane, when I left the plane, and when my wheelchair was pushed to baggage claim. And that’s without counting my layover. So there are many more possibilities that you will directly encounter issues with airline employees than the airport itself.
There are a couple of different things you can do when you have an issue with their employees. 1) Directly ask to talk to or work with another employee. If you, like me, had an issue with the person who pushed your wheelchair, ask for someone else to. 2) File a complaint with the airline/train company/bus company. This gives formal evidence that something happened. Often, these issues come from the fact that these people don’t understand the prevalence of invisible illnesses, so I make a point to explain that. Hopefully this means that eventually there will be training on invisible illnesses and people will understand better.
Other travelers – This is a little trickier, but also a little better. First of all, you can’t file a complaint against a normal person who is rude. But on the other hand, you can just ignore them. If someone does more than give me a rude look – like says something about they wish that they got special privileges – then I’ll give them the lowdown (with plenty of sass if at all possible, and it is usually possible). I’ll say something like, “Actually, I wish that I didn’t get special privileges because I have an incurable autoimmune disease that is trying to destroy my body, but to each their own!” At the end of the day, though, you can fix them with a look that says, “You’re a rude idiot and I’m glad that you’re not in my life,” and then you can move on. And you can always ignore them, too, but I prefer to make it very clear that they have no idea what they’re talking about, and sometimes I’m not in the mood to be polite about it. ANYWAY. Moving on …
At the end of the day, when it comes down to companies (airline, train station, etc.), they can’t do anything to prevent issues going forward unless they know what happened. Be as specific as possible when you contact them. A potential email might look like, “On [date], I was traveling from [location] to [location] and after I checked in, the person who was called to push my wheelchair told me that I didn’t need a wheelchair. This was hurtful because I have [condition] and while I look fine, I am unable to walk longer distances. Wheelchairs are essential for people like me, whether or not they look disabled or handicapped. In the end I was not denied a wheelchair, but it shouldn’t have been an argument. It was also extremely insulting and unprofessional.”
I hope this helps you, and I also hope that you never run into any issues like I did in the future. If you have, what are your tips for handling a situation like this?