One Word: A Review

“I think this year will be easier to tackle if I just call it what it is from the get go, rather than being in denial for an unspecified period of time.”

When I wrote that last year I truly had no idea what I was getting into, other than I was being secretly overly optimistic.

Transition was my word for 2016.

And boy was it.

All the things I thought might happen did:

-I became one of the “older” students on campus.

-I’m now more an advisor than an advisee.

-My degree program has a new director, who has made me think more about my potential impact for the Church, and in the best way possible (I think, I hope).

-I’ve learned more about myself when it comes to achieving goals.

-I’ve tried to enjoy the steps along the way while keeping the end in mind, rather than let it become my sole focus.

And then some:

-I changed my schedule to better fit the life I want instead of worrying about what other people might say about my motivations.

-I’ve been trying to put school as the priority, which means devoting my mornings to coursework rather than feeling “awake” enough to do it.

-I joined a swim club, and although it’s been something of a culture shock it’s been overwhelmingly positive. There are still times when swimming sucks but that’s bound to happen no matter how ideal the situation is.

-I ventured into podcasting, thinking it would be a one-time thing but it’s becoming an actual venture.

-I’ve actively participated in most of the changes in my life this past year, rather than having the change still occur with resistance on my part.

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They Forgot Me On A Train

I do not enjoy train travel and my most recent experience didn’t help matters, which is probably a dead giveaway given the title of this post.

I travel to NYC once a year. People think because I’m so close I do it all the time. 1) It’s not that close and 2) the logistics involved are beyond ridiculous.

I know a lot of wheelchair users who prefer to travel by train, but I’m not one of them.

A few years ago, it was announced that all railcars would soon be fully accessible, meaning no need for bridge plates and worrying about finding a car with a wheelchair space.

Years later not all railcars in use are accessible, and even the accessible cars require the need for bridge plates, which means you need a conductor to get the bridge plate for you.

And therein lies the problem.

I knew I would probably need the bridge plate once getting to my arrival station so I parked myself next to it and informed the conductor. Once the train stopped at my arrival station (also the last stop of the night) I let everyone else disembark ahead of me and waited for the conductor, especially after I saw the size of the gap between the train and the platform I knew I shouldn’t even try to hop over it.

I’m waiting a long time so I see if the bridge plate was left unlocked. It’s happened before, but not this time.

My mother decided to stand in the doorway to prevent it from closing and hopefully flag down a conductor who might be passing by, no luck.

The starts closing and unlike elevator doors they don’t stop when met with resistance.

My mother is standing on the platform and I’m still on the train with no way to open the door.

I don’t see anyone who is still on the train or a phone number, instead I just see an emergency intercom.

My mother is trying to find someone without wondering too far from the train.

I press the button on the intercom & start screaming for help. It’s late, pitch dark, and I have no idea if or when they’ll turn the lights off on the train.

Nothing.

I press the button again & scream.

Nothing.

Again.

Nothing.

At this point I’m panicked and just want the door to open.

I try the intercom again.

Still nothing.

Finally, a conductor walks through the car, doing the final walkthrough, my screams weren’t heard.

He tells me that he told the other conductor, the one my mother saw walk off the train but she couldn’t get his attention, that I would need assistance. He asks if I still need the bridge plate.

(I want to scream again, but this time for an additional reason)

He opens the door, puts the bridge plate over the gap, and wishes me a good night.

My panic has been replaced by fury but because it’s so late at night all offices are closed and I’m forced to just go home.

I go over the whole thing in my head and then again, on the ride home.

There was nothing I could’ve done differently, and that’s what I still find to be the most frustrating.

The world isn’t always a friendly place for people like me.

That’s just not acceptable.

Not to mention worse than being forgotten on a plane.

They Forgot Me On a Plane

Feel free to watch before you continue reading.

My experiences traveling are different than Mike’s although there are enough similarities to relate.

Here’s the thing about traveling with a disability (from my experience), no experience is ever the same; even with something as standard as TS@ procedures.

I have family settling in North Carolina (with Florida being a close 2nd) faster than should probably be allowed. I need to figure out streamlining my air travel to anywhere in North Carolina or else my wallet would continue to be emptied in BWI out of sheer boredom.

There’s also the matter of traveling from point A (my home) to point B (North Carolina) could take anywhere from a 2 hour flight to an 8 hour day (if more than 1 flight & layovers are involved).

I got lucky when I remembered that Charlotte is a hub for a major airline (you can probably guess the airline that shall remain nameless).

At least I thought I was lucky (see: title of this post).

I did everything possible to prepare airline staff of my needs. I told them what I needed & asked questions for further clarification. I got nervous when I boarded the aircraft; due to its size, but sitting by the window helped. I slept the entire flight thinking I was in the clear.

I like to sit towards the back of the aircraft for two reasons, it’s easier on my spine & the ground crew needs time to retrieve my wheelchair, sitting towards the back allows them to do this without agitating me.

As I approached the door of the aircraft to deplane I caught the eye of one of the flight attendants.

“Oh no. We forgot you were onboard. Will you need a ramp?”   

 You what? Will I what?

I look out the door to see a flight of airplane stairs & they’re steep.

I guess that’s what that ‘do not walk behind the wings of the aircraft’ warning was all about. And come to think about it no one asked about whether I’d need assistance upon arrival.

Now I know to bring it up before leaving the departure gate before boarding……

I was tempted to ask the flight attendant just how she thought they’d set up a ramp safely now that half the plane was empty and the other half were waiting, but I held my tongue. I told the person I was traveling with to go in front of me so I would have a better grasp on spatial awareness (by looking at her shoulders instead of the stairs).

I made it down the stairs & I looked for my wheelchair, which was placed (brakes on, to my surprise) in front of the wing, just barely.

While waiting for my luggage to be unloaded I snapped a picture of the plane to send to friends & family, with not so comical commentary, to let them know we had arrived safely. Not long, maybe 3 seconds, after I press send I start getting replies.

“How did you make it down the stairs?”

“Didn’t you tell someone you needed help?”

“What if you couldn’t walk?”

The last question was the one that really got to me. I’m fortunate that I have good enough mobility that I can make do when unexpected situations arise. As unpleasant as being a forgotten passenger was the situation could’ve been worse. I could’ve been stuck on the plane until they got the ramp, however that would’ve happened.

Getting into the terminal was another challenge. I was told, and I’ve also read, beforehand that the Charlotte airport was going though major renovations. I hope this is true, because if things stay as they were the accessibility is pretty terrible.

I hope that eventually, meaning sooner rather than later, that every flight can be given a jet-way that leads straight into the terminal so stairs and/or the need for additional ramps isn’t even a thought.

I’ll probably use the airline & the airport again. It wouldn’t be my first choice. If there is a next time, for whatever reason, I’ll be better prepared. I hope the airline will be as well.

When I’ve retold my experience to others they’re shocked that the flight crew forgot I was on board. It wasn’t the first time it’s happened & it probably won’t be the last. I do my best to express my needs and concerns to who needs to know, and maybe a few who don’t. That’s all I can do. But that doesn’t make it suck any less.

Do you have any interesting travel stories?

*A similar version of this post was written on May 20, 2013

Holidays & Disability

I hate shopping. I don’t see the point of it. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less than go to the mall, for example. I wasn’t always this way however. I used to look forward to shopping, no matter what occasion.

Now it’s just another pain in my ass.

It’s funny how I cling to online shopping when I used to resist it so much.

There’s a reason why I shop for Christmas gifts throughout the year, and it’s not for the bargains (although that would be a bonus).

I’ve been nearly finished with my shopping for months now. I just have to get a few more gifts and I’m done (hopefully by the time you read this I will be done).

This year came with an unexpected hiccup.

I went online to make my purchase. I tried more than once and asked others to try too (in the event of human error). No success.

I called the store, as in the brick and mortar building.

They told me I couldn’t place an order through their website, any order, at all.

So one wonders why bother having a website in the first place?

I asked if I could order my gift over the phone (which I understand is the most insecure way to place an order).

“Well how would you get your order.”

I could’ve explained to her that I don’t drive so getting to the store isn’t as easy as ordering online. But that’s beside the point I was trying to make by calling the store, not to mention I didn’t want to drop that card unless absolutely necessary, which isn’t, but I did ask myself that at first.

I’ll stick with the reliable family fallback gift giving tradition. It’s not my 1st choice but I have to do it with another gift anyway so what’s one more?

I can hear you asking, What’s the point of this post if she already had a solution in her back pocket?

Not everyone has a backup plan.

The holidays are stressful for everyone without accessibility issues. E-Commerce can easily be seen as a luxury we take for granted but for many it’s a gateway to the world at large, not unlike social media.

Therefore, if you have a website that includes eCommerce of any sort please make sure it works, and if it hasn’t worked for any length of time fix it and let people know that it is up and running again. You may not see any large benefits from online shopping but you’ll get more than if you have nothing at all, and even worse if you have it but it doesn’t work (in my opinion).