In this world of international travel, modern recognition of accommodating individuals with disabilities and sophisticated technology, it should be a breeze…right?
Please take your seat, buckle up in a wheel chair or a walker, and let’s go tour Europe.
First you must take care to plan how you are going to get there. Travel agents take familiarization trips all over the world. I know that many travellers perceive this as a perk and simply paid vacations, but it is far more important than that. Good agents will try to walk, or roll, in your shoes as they visit these locations. When an able-bodied traveller sees a set of three steps, they see access to the next level. The one in a walker or mobility device sees the end of their progress.
Does your travel agent understand the difficulty of sand, cobblestone, historical marble pathways, or curbs to the mobility challenged traveller? Or the need to order oversized trunks in a taxi? Or the height of buffet serving tables on ships, and managing a food tray in high seas? Even registration desks and ATMs create an awkward environment. The wheeled wonders have become quite adroit at circumventing these obstacles in most cases. Some customer service representatives…not so much…
This is especially evident in foreign countries with cultural or philosophical bias towards those less able than themselves. It’s not so much intended discrimination, as it is willful blindness. Those around them, and in most cases without malice, sense their own delay and nuisance towards assisted travel We are programmed to be in queues moving with Disney lineup efficiency. The stress of travel makes many of us cranky and being forced to slow down or move over for someone in a mobility device exacerbates that.
Despite valiant efforts to accommodate persons with mobility challenges, there is a long way to go to eliminate barriers, even in airports. To the credit of many airports, they have invested considerably in special services, although the quality varies depending on who takes that responsibility, the airport, a private contractor or already overworked flight attendants. These are people who have keyed access to back hallways and secret elevators to transport individuals needing assistance. In fact, they push their clients up and down steep ramps, maneuver through crowds and supply priority access to custom officers, boarding gates, and those bridges leading to the door of your aircraft. Of course, they are not personal assistants and have many to serve. As a result, the traveler is occasionally shunted to what I call the sterile storage warehouses along with others, absent simple luxuries like handicap washrooms or access to food or water. There, the wheeled wonders languish until someone comes for them.
Next is the act of boarding. Mechanical devices are stored in the belly of the plane for the next destination, the passenger is transferred to an airport wheel chair and parked for the duration. Be aware, however, that unless your agent has pre-booked the need of a wheel chair, there may be additional waiting for service. As well, these folks are usually the first boarded and the last deplaned. All this is gratefully accepted but embarrassing when their fellow travellers seem to glare at these wheeled demons for line jumping. The special service agents are by far the most empathetic problem solvers in the system and are largely invisible in their duty. Some share their life stories to personalize the experience and love to hear yours. They truly want to please within the confines given them. However, there can be general disdain by others. That walker or chair is the passenger’s lifeline once set free into the rest of the trip. God forbid it gets damaged or worse, lost into the baggage purgatory of bureaucracy, paper work and unwillingness to accept responsibility. Any passenger would be frustrated and annoyed to just have lost a bag, “We believe it is in Frankfurt Germany, Ma’am…maybe Athens.” That response is reacted differently if we are talking about your dirty underwear versus your only form of independent travel. That sentence suddenly becomes a blow to your heart. Now imagine the consequence if the traveller has missed a connection and is forced to go through 6 airports and the requisite customs inspections over the next 22 hours and has no personal set of wheels to rely on. (Author’s Note: This really happened a few days ago. The lost piece of luggage has been found and anticipated return within the week… The walker? Disappeared…)
Particularly in countries with 2000-year-old paths through ancient ruins or broken and historic walkways, the wheeled traveller resigns themselves to limited touring and hired privately escorted guides to at least get a flavour of the experience They don’t complain and are more enamoured by their adventure than we mere mortals.
“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced
Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.” John Keats
The traveler who risks these obstacles, to experience new worlds and old cultures, is to be congratulated. They are courageous and modern-day explorers.
Congratulations to Brenda Pascoe, Manager, Vision Travel on Fairview Drive, Brantford, for doing all this planning and accommodation, plus more, from Toronto, through: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Kusadasi-Ephesus Turkey, Rhodes, Frankfurt, Brussels and Halifax.