Travel in a wheelchair

2012-06-29 14:59
GoTravel24 reader, Estelle van Eerde says there is light at the end of the tunnel, even when you're bound to travelling in a wheel chair.

I wanted to scream at those walking by me, “Look me in the eye! I’m not mental! This is only temporary!”  I used to get really irked by people who insist on referring to disabled or handicapped people as ‘differently abled’. Why make a fuss, that’s how we’ve always referred to them. Until the day I sat in a wheelchair.

My journey to this discovery was gradual. Fortunately, my experience turned out better than expected.  I had a very physically demanding job working in the machinery space onboard a ship. Lifting, moving, hauling, painting, installing. I needed my mobility. One day my slight 50kg female body just up and started giving up. Exhaustion or fatigue is what they call it. My will no longer had the power to propel me into motion. At first I made slight adjustments to cope, until I was down to only one hour of work in the mornings. So, I quit my job, and booked a flight home.

In foresight, I procured a crutch to help me along at the airport. That still presented a problem because I’m walking at an average speed of 500m an hour! What a way to delay a flight. The airline I was taking, according to their websites, don’t offer special assistance. If you can’t make it on your own, you need to bring someone along. Well, what if I’m stuck on an island and don’t have anyone to lug along?

Guess what? All is not wrong with the world. As I checked in with Dragon Air in the Philippines, I was met with friendly faces and sympathetic smiles. I was assisted into the plane, my handbag carried for me. On landing in Hong Kong I was asked to remain seated for special assistance. I admit, I was slightly uneasy, I mean they know I can walk but here they are readily offering me a wheelchair ride. I objected. The air hostess replied: “This is for your convenience ma’am. It’s really no problem.” Before I knew it, I was walked into a special lift car, seated in the wheelchair, strapped down and lowered from the plane onto the tarmac. The friendliness of the assistant astounded me. This wasn’t a hassle to her, it was a service she gladly provided!

It was the same way during my layover in Bangkok. My Qatar Airways flight attendants once again arranged for me to be rolled from the plane. I was graciously assisted at the body check, my assistant even doing my shoes, and scanning my belongings. Not once did anyone ask or expect me to tip them for the trouble, as is so common in Asia. Fellow passengers were either indifferent or openly friendly. Not once did I get yelled at because we kept going down the ‘crew only’ lines or skipping to the front of queues.

As I arrived at my final destination in Sri Lanka, the assistant once again took my travel documents, saw the customs official on my behalf and rolled me through. The porter graciously gathered my luggage and rolled it out into the humid night air.
At the end of it all, I realize that some have learned the lesson of kindness to your fellow man, before I did.

I will certainly have more grace on fellow ‘differently abled’ passengers on trips to come.


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