By Doug Ankerman
For me, traveling with multiple sclerosis (and being in a wheelchair) has never been a problem.
I’ve rolled through airports with every conceivable three-letter combination in the entire alphabet. And my latest trip to Phoenix (or should I say PHX) would be no exception.
But this trip WOULD be a challenge for two reasons.
One, I would be traveling alone. And two, a recent fall left me with a broken collarbone. Thus I would be traveling with two bum legs AND only one arm.
I would need wheelchair assistance the entire trip.
That’s where I met Everett, my wheelchair guide and designated pusher. Everett was a thin, elderly man. His blue vest hung from his shoulders like it was hanging on a nail. He was already breathing heavy just looking at me and my Samsonite.
One perk of being wheelchair-bound (they don’t tell you this at diagnosis) is being allowed to skirt the long line at airport security. You go right to the front where I struggled to remove my shoes one-handed. Everett wasn’t much help – adding he didn’t do feet.
Next, since the wheelchair can’t go through the scanner, I enjoyed a personal pat-down from a male TSA official. Even my wheelchair gets a thorough once-over.
All cleared, the next challenge is putting my shoes back on. Again one-handed. And again, no help from Everett. He watched me struggle till I finally gave up and said “Let’s roll.”
My gate was the farthest one at the other end of the airport, of course. Seemingly in a different zip code, or so it seemed.
Everett began breathing heavier. Almost wheezing. In my head I reviewed how to do CPR just in case.
At last we arrived and Everett turned me over to the agents at the gate.
Another perk of disability is being first to board the plane. That is after enduring the stink-eye of every other passenger thinking “What makes him so special?”
With just one arm and unable to use my canes to walk, I was forced to use the airline aisle chair to board the plane. The aisle chair is just that, a wee skinny wheelchair capable of squeezing down the aisle.
As I settled into my seat a flight attendant kindly put my bag in the overhead compartment.
The flight attendants checked on me several times during the flight, including one who offered his shoulder to hang onto while I slowly walked to the bathroom.
Upon landing even more staff helped me off the plane and through the airport to my waiting ride.
It was a pleasant trip thanks to helpful people. People willing to lend this disabled traveler a hand…and an arm…and two legs.
My point is, don’t let your disability keep you home. It has never been easier, or more accommodating, to travel via plane, bus, cruise ship, whatever.
If you are willing to go – there are ways to get you there.
With a little planning and some extra attention, the whole world is waiting for you.
And it is worth the trip.