I just bought airline tickets and , as a result, experienced the frustration of having to pay more to be able to 1) pick a seat, and 2) check a bag. For one of the flights, I even had to pay more to get a meal on the plane! I was so frustrated! However, my frustration cannot compare to the everyday frustrations of people with disabilities trying to navigate the necessities of travel. There is no question: There is a need for more accessible travel.
Travelling as a person with disabilities is not an easy feat. It is a proposition that carries with it a great deal of preparation and stress. I know this firsthand because my brother, who is a big and tall man in his forties, and has multiple disabilities, travels at least twice a year. He, along with my mother as his companion, have experienced the stresses of navigating travel. Having gone through this experience with them, time and time again, and having helped others navigate airports and airlines, I can relate to these experiences.
What are the issues that face most travelers with disabilities and their families? The list is extensive, but for right now we are going to focus on the few issues that have affected my family the most. Here they are:
- Accessible/Unisex bathrooms: Most airports in the United States, and most abroad, have gender-specific bathrooms with a stall which is dedicated to someone entering in a wheelchair. This is a good start, but it is certainly not enough. How would someone that needs diapers changed be able to use the bathroom? Changing tables are only for babies. What about someone that needs assistance to use the bathroom? A good number of individuals with disabilities need assistance flushing, sitting, pulling up their pants, etc. My mother has a very difficult time every time that she needs to go into a “Ladies Room” with my very grown brother who needs assistance to use the bathroom. She is always afraid that someone would “report her.” We need accessible-for-all, stand-alone, unisex bathrooms in every airport terminal!
- Accessibility to Family Members to accompany even if not travelling: My experience here in New York has been very positive with the Special Assistance personnel who help wheel my brother around through the airport, but assistance goes beyond that. My mother needs more help than just someone who helps wheel the wheelchair. She needs the emotional support that only a family member can provide. I have been lucky enough (shout out to American Airlines at JFK Terminal 8!) to be able to obtain a gate pass every time. Thanks so much to those employees that have seen this need and have processes my request!
- More accessibility inside the actual plane: I can always get a vegetarian meal, but once I tried to get a pureed meal for my brother and there was no such meal available! How about seats that are more ADA compliant? My mother has to pay extra in order to get the more comfortable seat on the plane, where my brother barely fits. I have heard other people who have to do the same. How about more availability of ADA compliant bathrooms? The only ones available right now are typically in first/business class and most people do not know that they have a right to use those, struggling to get themselves to the bathroom and using it with dignity.
These three areas are by far the ones where I have not seen consistent improvement. I admit, there are many areas where I have seen improvement over the years. Only ten years ago it was almost impossible for me to request and be granted a gate pass when my brother traveled. Today (thanks to American Airlines at JFK Terminal 8!), I am able to accompany and help my mother all the way through the gate. My brother’s experience has become more accessible just because of this improvement.
What are the issues that you have during travel? Drop me a note and let me know! Let’s make accessible travel a reality!