Monday, March 29, 2010

A Wheelchair, a cup of Coffee and an Airport

While waiting in line for coffee at the airport today, a woman pushing a wheelchair insisted on cutting in front of me because "she had a wheelchair."

Had she said, we are running late and my client desperately needs a cup of coffee, I might have been more sympathetic. Surely I could understand a situation like that... there I was, in line with a whole lot of other people, waiting patiently to order a cup of coffee.

The mere fact that a person was being pushed around in an airport wheelchair is not a reason to jump the coffee line and frankly, I think it is rude to expect it.

I feel some people must think I'm a jerk.  So before you start going crazy about disability rights and awareness, please continue reading.

Yes, having a wheelchair provides certain line jumping privileges. Privileges like access to the crew line for airport security and boarding the aircraft first. But with these line jumping privileges comes getting off the plane last. There is no altruism here. People who use wheelchairs don't prefer to be patted down by TSA agents in full view or enjoy sitting on planes more than people who don't use wheelchairs. It is done this way because it is easier for the staff.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that my husband uses a wheelchair. You could probably even surmise that he would never expect to be moved ahead of someone because he has a wheelchair.

Even with a present need for coffee, he would wait his turn.

Which makes me wonder, did the people in line behind me actually think that having a wheelchair was a valid reason to jump the line?

The woman pushing the chair looked at me like I was rude for not letting her cut the line. So I can only assume that the people behind me might have had the same thoughts.

Her reaction angered me. I don't like being angry, which angered me more. Honestly, there are so many ways to  make everyday life easier for people who use wheelchairs.  Acting like a victim so you can get coffee a few minutes earlier is not worth the ill will it causes.

If you really want to make life better for someone who uses a wheelchair, consider installing things like curb cutouts and wider sidewalks and aisles.  Consider installing ramps, elevators and automatic doors.  Consider removing all carpet and stairs.

If buildings and public spaces were designed with wheelchairs in mind, they would be easier for everyone to access.  Have you ever noticed how places that are easy to take baby strollers are also easy for wheelchairs to navigate?

I think we should all consider these things.  None of us are getting any younger.  May we all be lucky enough to become old enough, to have the opportunity to use a wheelchair to get around.

As for the woman pushing the airport wheelchair this morning and the many people in line behind me... offering someone a position ahead of you in line is polite. Expecting to be given an earlier position is rude, regardless of your ambulatory abilities.


WonderWhyGal said...

I have found that people who are temporarily disabled don't understand and most often don't care about the those people who live with it their whole lives. They simply see it as a way to "get ahead" or get special treatment.

My dad hated using the wheelchair and even the walker. He didn't use the handicap parking if he had a good day. He never wanted to be treated special or get special treatment, he just wanted a normal day of not struggling for every breath.

I'm sorry you had to deal with that lady in the airport. I wish that people like that would really open their eyes and see the world around them...see that there is more to life than that cup of coffee.

Kathryn Ray said...

The irony is, I don't think the person being pushed in the airport wheelchair had any idea what was going on.

From what you have shared, I have no doubt that your dad just wanted to live his life on his own, without any special treatment.

We usually don't use the wheelchair parking either. Especially since some people really need to be closer to the door. In fact, years ago we nearly had an altercation in a Los Angeles parking lot because we did not use the wheelchair parking space.