May I Vent?

I’m well aware that my request to “vent” will evoke (appropriately) a response along the lines of “Don’t you do that every morning?” But this time, it’s personal–albeit with policy implications.

I am not the first person to recognize that it’s easy to ignore social problems until those problems affect you or someone close to you, and I’m not proud of finding myself among those who have ignored barriers to access for disabled people until those barriers affected my household.

But here I am.

As I have frequently noted, I’m old. My husband is even older–he’ll hit 90 this year, and during the last couple of years, his ability to walk–his strength and balance–have suffered. He owns a mobility scooter, and thanks to the fact that we live in the heart of the city, with sidewalks and ramps, if the weather permits and we aren’t traveling he can “scoot” to most places–the hardware store, the grocery, the Indianapolis Indians ballpark.

The scooter has been a godsend, but note the above caveats: weather and travel. They are the triggers for this rant.

Regular readers know that my husband and I recently visited our son in Amsterdam. Going, we cruised. Returning–rather obviously–entailed flying into Indianapolis International Airport, and once again, we encountered the failure of that much-lauded facility to accommodate passengers needing wheelchairs. Getting a wheelchair has been a piece of cake in virtually every other airport we’ve flown through, but in Indy, we’ve had trouble every single time we’ve flown.

On previous trips from Indianapolis, we’ve made timely requests and been told to call when we’re five or ten minutes from the airport, and they’ll have a chair at the door. We call. There’s no chair. I have to go in and find one, and it’s not always easy. When we returned from Amsterdam via Philadelphia, no fewer than five passengers who had requested wheelchairs were left at the arrival gate for fifteen minutes or more while airline staff went searching for wheelchairs and attendants. (The attendant who finally appeared for my husband then abandoned him at baggage claim.)

That’s the airport. Then there’s the convention center.

Last weekend, our youngest granddaughter graduated (forgive the brag: Magna Cum Laude) from Herron High School. The ceremony was in the convention center–and the weather forecast was heavy rain. My husband couldn’t just “scoot” there, since his scooter isn’t supposed to get wet, so we consulted the convention center website, which  promised the availability of wheelchairs. My husband called to ask where–in that mammoth facility–the wheelchairs were located, but the person to whom he talked didn’t know.

Later, our son (the graduate’s father) called, and was told that wheelchairs would be located in Hall D. That sounded odd to me (IUPUI commencements were often in Hall D, which is just one of the several exhibit halls). When we got there, my son and grandson went to Hall D to fetch the chair, and sure enough, there were no wheelchairs there. Worse still, they spent a half hour searching for someone–anyone– on the center staff who could tell them where the chairs were located. We finally stumbled on the small office that had them while the two of them were trying to push my husband to the graduation hall on a very small chair with wheels they’d spotted in an unattended room and appropriated.

Needless to say, we weren’t happy campers.

Indianapolis likes to advertise how welcoming the city is to visitors. Evidently, that welcome is less robust when it comes to folks with disabilities.

It shouldn’t be a shock that elderly people and people with various disabilities use airplanes and airports. Grandparents and other elderly folks are pretty predictable members of a graduation audience. Facilities catering to travelers and large crowds might be expected to anticipate mobility issues–certainly, both the convention center and airport websites suggest as much.

When we were in Amsterdam–an older city with lots of places my husband just couldn’t go–our son remarked that he’d been unaware of that city’s accessibility issues until he was planning for our visit. Until my husband’s difficulty walking, I too had given little or no thought to the obstacles faced by people who are no longer ‘hale and hearty.” My son and I are both a bit ashamed of our previous lack of recognition and empathy–but on the other hand, we’re not in the business of inviting and accommodating large groups of people.

Airports and convention centers are in that business, and I’m unwilling to cut them any slack. Their evident disregard for people needing assistance is–quite simply–unforgivable incompetence. It is also inconsistent with their primary mission.

Okay–end of rant.


  1. That was a good rant, and you’re right, those facilities are in the logistics business so should have thought through all those issues in advance. I checked real quick on the airport issue at Indianapolis and they have a website:

    There is even a place where you can make a formal complaint. Do it and let us know what happens. Maybe it will help the next folks needing a wheelchair. I’ve had to use a wheelchair for my dad and stepmom often. I don’t want them sitting at home because it’s too difficult to get around. If they give up on going, then they give up on living.

  2. Never forget…it’s your blog and you can write whatever you want!

    A commitment to inclusion does not seem to come natural to Americans, maybe not even humans….but I’m not an anthropologist. It takes work and repetition and the firm establishment of a social norm that it is just expected in every aspect of our lives. Attend any local plan commission meeting and watch the scowls on the faces of the developers and people in the audience when they’re told a design for a propose new building or remodel project doesn’t meet ADA requirements (same thing goes for stormwater management and sensible traffic flow). It’s all about the quick buck….not what’s best for the community for the long term including ALL its citizens.

    There are 5-7 lobbying organizations in Indianapolis that are glued so tightly to the Indiana General Assembly they might as well be considered part of it. None is more powerful than the construction industry including roads and commercial and residential real-estate. It is the very essence of our crony-capitalist system of government and economy. It’s also why our U.S. Congress and POTUS have to occasionally step in and lay down the law (again, ADA) for states to follow if they want to keep eating at the trough of the federal treasury.

    Unless and until this system of governance changes, there will always be a systemic bias against inclusion, fairness and a long-term perspective in our laws and regulations.

  3. My spouse and I just returned from Switzerland with a prior trip to Spain, and Denmark before that. This isn’t to brag about our good fortune but to express my envy when visiting countries where facilities, services, and other amenities are targeted toward improving the peoples’ lives. Perhaps I’m being naïve because up here in Milwaukee, like you Hoosiers, we have to prioritize our spending for economic development “miracles” like basketball arenas and baseball stadia for billionaires…and let’s not overlook my favorite: TIFs. Then again, I suppose all these are meant to help those for whom our government really represents. Right Todd?

  4. Thanks for the reminder Sheila. I had a similar conversion in 1983 when my father lost his leg from diabetes. He LOVED going to the grocery store and that was no longer an option. Shortly after that, I saw a NEW device at the Grocers Trade Show in Chicago. It was a self propelled electric shopping cart. I signed up to be the dealer for Indiana at once. It was a VERY tough sell. Store owners were convinced certain mayhem would ensue from old folks on electric carts. That never happened. They are SUPER slow. It was such an oddity in the 1980’s that local TV Station Ch 6 had their feature reporter Barbary Boyd do a feature story about the first cart at Marsh Supermarket at 86th & Ditch road in Indianapolis. They were STILL a touch sell. Then finally legislation was passed at the federal level (no surprise) that made them mandatory. As the laws changed over time, stores were required to have more of them. That seems to be dropping off now. Maybe the trumpers changed to regulations (?) Anyway, when I saw it in my OWN family, it got to be a much clearer issue. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. The Americans with disabilities act (ADA) deals with accessibility and availability! And as you say, anything that deals with logistics, have to be compliant with accessibility and availability. I would hate to suggest litigation, but litigation has been invoked for much less. And, it would help a lot of people in the same boat, which is one we probably all will be in eventually.

  6. When I was completing my training for Orientation and Mobility Instructor (Spatial awareness and White Cane Travel), one of the assignments was to spend a day using a wheelchair and going to public places. It was eye-opening. Trying to travel in the mall and narrow aisles in the stores and finding a restaurant with a ramp, handicap accessible doors, tables, and restrooms were a nightmare. I also noticed that clerks and patrons were uncomfortable around someone in a wheelchair – like I was contagious. Mothers shuttled young children away from me and too many gave me long stares. I also did not like giving up my independence as my husband pushed me around. He was always going too fast – clipping the wheelchair into clothes racks or counters – causing more embarrassment. Large cracks in the sidewalks and items blocking the sidewalks were problematic and too many ramps are so steep – seriously – how can a person maneuver such a feat without support?? My father-in-law was also in a wheelchair for at least three years. People park in handicapped parking lots and block ramps, and hostesses provide no help opening doors. Outback Steakhouse in Muncie is the worse. There was not one table to fit his wheelchair and he had to sit awkwardly at the side of a table in the main aisle – bumped often by waitresses and patrons. The worst part was when using the bathroom. The stall was too small for the wheelchair, did not provide enough room for my husband to provide support, and the sink/hand dryer/soap dispenser were hard to reach. The manager insisted that the restaurant passed inspection – how? Just last week, I heard a story about a doctor’s office not having an accessible bathroom in the examination area. A gentleman had to go to the public bathroom in the reception area and then carry his cup back to the examination room – unacceptable! I have a friend who has no vision and she is a spitfire. She actually goes to businesses when she hears that they are not accessible to people who are blind. She uses a white cane and travels independently using public transportation and taxis/Uber. We met for dinner at Olive Garden. (The restaurant went above and beyond and my friend insisted on meeting there rather than me picking her up. She was already seated upon my arrival.) After dinner, she asked that I drop her off at a public grocery store as she was going to investigate. She had heard reports that the store was not providing services to people who are blind/low vision. She did not want me to go in with her, but rather asked that I park by the front entrance, and there she goes walking confidently inside. She would take a cab home. I asked her later how it went, and she did have a good experience and the staff did provide the appropriate assistance in shopping. I am glad she followed up and advocated for others. Don’t get me started about interpreters for the Deaf. A past student is going through a rough time. Her mother – who is also deaf and uses ASL – is fighting cancer. It has been a struggle to get qualified interpreters for important discussions about her mother’s treatment. Thank you for speaking up about this important issue. The problem will not go away unless people continue to be the squeaky wheel.

  7. We talk a good game … but it’s mostly distraction from reality. Like many things in America.

  8. Sheila, I hear your anger and frustration. I can only imagine the challenge of mobility with profound disability. I have noticed availability and greater use of power carts at big box stores that have ample aisles and equipment. We have chosen not to travel during pandemic, even now. I am so relieved to be retired and not an employer of service personnel during last two years. There has been disruption at so many levels with recovery to a new normal nowhere in sight. We have made great progress on accessibility but those gains have been compromised. We must be sure those gains are restored during recovery to a new normal. Thank you for raising the issue.

  9. many years ago I read a book called, “What can we do with all these dirty, rotten fish?”
    It is a church book about how evangelical churchest get all psyched up about inviting “everybody” to their stuff. Guaranted heaven, bliss and everlasing success draws a lot of people.
    But once you get all those folks togeteher several times a week. promises tend to draw odors. The kind of ministers who write books like this seem to want more substance and creative activty.
    But vacuous gatherings tend to draw cheerleaders and narcissists. People who can do efffective planning need to take over! But who wants that?

  10. I was very fortunate, as was my son, to grow up with disability in my family; this made us very aware from a young age that people were differently abled, and being that it was those we loved we never hesitated to offer assistance (or as I got older, demand accommodation) when needed. My grandmother, who developed MS when she was quite old for that, used an electric 3 wheeled cart, and once I was old enough to drive I would take her about in Indianapolis, to the mall to try on clothes (we needed a huge dressing room – good luck with that!), or out to dinner (try carrying 2 trays at MCL). When she moved to a tiny town north of here, she was both appalled and proud when I raised a stink with the Friends church because they didn’t have access for her to attend.

    Expecting companies to provide the accommodations they are required to, and advertise they do provide, is the bare minimum we should all do. Demanding it is what we should all do. Equity should be the norm, not the exception.

  11. There ought to be a law, wait, there is a law. So what is missing, aside from wheelchairs? Enforcement! We have many great laws on our books, but we too often fail to fund enforcement of those laws. Why is that? Reason number 1 is that enforcement costs money. Reason number 2 is that it’s inconvenient to those who give tons of money to keep their Senators and Representatives. We call that a quid pro quo, but SCOTUS calls it free speech..

  12. Sounds all too familiar. I flew to the Philippines a couple of months ago and encounter an a$$hole at LAX who refused to let me use an elevator so I could continue to use my cart loaded with luggage. Instead I had to carry all of it and I have DISH syndrome, a degenerative condition of the spine. I’m not supposed to lift more than 10kg and the luggage totaled in excess of of 50kg. When I got to the next check point the lady asked what was wrong and I told her what happened.

    I’m flying to the Philippines again on the 2nd (for a permanent move this time) and I’m making sure I have wheelchair transportation. The availability of carts and use of elevators is very easy at the Manila airport.

  13. Totally agree. My MIL and father both needed a wheelchair in later years. Many problems with going anywhere. Recall when taking my MIL out for dinner, I’d have to go into the restaurant and check for access in advance. Had to find other dining places often.

    Broke my foot and needed to use a wheelchair for eight weeks when I worked in Indy in the early 90’s. It was an eye-opening experience. I worked in a multi-acre building where meetings were held in various areas. I had to wheel myself around; not motorized. Coming back from a meeting, my boss accused me of taking too much time so I must have been wasting time ‘socializing’. I wasn’t. After that, I told folks if they wanted me at a meeting, they’d have to send someone to get me.
    One restaurant had such a small hallway that the restrooms were inaccessible with a wheelchair, I had to hop on one foot using walls to steady myself to get to it. Can’t do that with older folks.

    I have a profound hearing loss. Along with hearing aids, I partially read lips to compensate. With mask wearing, which I wholeheartedly support and do myself, communicating is hampered. Physical accessibility continues to be a problem. Folks do not appreciate the problems, until faced with them personally. Appreciate you addressing this issue.

  14. Peggy and John Sorg,

    Yes, the ADA requires such accesses per Sheila’s rant this morning. But Indiana is owned and operated by big money interests who dictate to their Republican lackeys what will and will not happen. The really absurd part is that the Federal Government pays for those accessibility devices and conveniences. But maybe Indianans are SO ruby red that anything coming from Washington and those damned liberals is rejected out of hand.

    Does anyone remember the fairness in broadcasting legislation prior to Reagan? Yeah. That administration simply stopped prosecuting violations. I’ll bet it’s the same sea of crap in the Indy legislation and governor’s office: Ignore the violators. It’s too expensive for the Feds to come after us.

    That all said, recall what the sewer Greg Abbott calls a mouth said earlier this week about the shortage of mental health facilities. After the murder of innocent little children that sewer went full GOP MEME and blamed mental health and Chicago. What he forgot to mention was that he had the Republican lege (As Molly Ivins called it.) in Texas to cut over $200 million dollars from mental health funding. You can’t make this up, and yes…Texas Republicans ARE that stupid. I lived there and saw them making fools of themselves daily.

    In Texas there is a spurious organization known as the Texas Public Policy Foundation. I believe there is Koch-funded branch in Indiana too. Look them up and read their screeds. Yep. That will answer a lot of Sheila’s questions about right-wing government.

  15. I’m in Arkansas. My mom is 103 and in a wheelchair. I never really noticed until she went to wheel chair how difficult navigating the world in a wheelchair is. Her eye doctor’s office has 2 sets of door at entry and neither are automatic. One restaurant we like has very narrow entry door. Her hairdresser salon entrance has a small step up. So many obstacles.

  16. As a mobility impaired stroke victim, I’ve nothing to add except AMEN.

  17. Sheila; has Bob run into vehicle blocked handicap curb cuts in his downtown “travels”? I need a cane for general mobility but use a 4-wheeled walker for exercise through my neighborhood and that is a frequent problem. I must walk in the street till I reach a driveway to get back on the sidewalk. Leaving a polite note under their windshield wiper is ignored.

    Remember the “good old days” when people first began using personal computers and you could contact almost any business, including medical, by E-mail? Now people use cell phones for everything but loading their dishwashers and even businesses advertising on line with an E-mail no longer respond. That is a violation of the Reasonable Accommodations Section of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have also run into problems dealing in person when clerks who have been communicating by writing notes try to give me their company phone number; I remind them I am deaf and they ask for my phone number so they can call me. I have no solution to these problems; just carry on as best I can. I just spent 10 days trying to schedule an appointment on line with Pep Boys which I have done in the past; gave up and drove there and scheduled the work to be done on my car. They sent me an E-mail, which I found when I drove home after the work was done, telling me my car was ready for pickup. And so it goes!

  18. I flew into IND from RSW earlier this month and counted 16 wheelchairs with occupants waiting to board the plane. Needless to say, our departure was delayed. When we landed, just as you described, there were no wheelchairs and some of the elderly were hobbling out the door and waiting of the jetway for help. Another gentleman was in distress in his seat and as the flight attendant tried to help, one rude passenger was irate that he had to wait, calling the attendant an a**hole. Not sure what can be done as we struggle to get back to normal from Covid, but we must do better.

  19. Empathy makes society work. It seems that as we have been successful at both having kids and allowing them to live longer and longer lives we have gotten emptier and emptier of empathy.

    It’s like empathy must be a natural resource in limited supply and we have exceeded the limits of it so everyone has to get along with less.

    Of course everyone getting along with less anything has become unimaginable for us. But, we are very well entertained, so there is that.

  20. Sheila’s rant this morning amidst ADA violations will, I think, take on added significance inasmuch as Americans are getting older, living longer etc., thus adding to the exposures she and others today have laid out in response to her “rant.” To do? More rants.

  21. A friend of mine who is disabled and wheelchair bound, and lives on 35th Street just off of Martin Luther King BLvd, pointed out to me several years ago how the intersection of 38th and MLK/Michigan Road had wheelchair ramps and sidewalks at all four corners, but on the NorthWest corner, by the museum, the sidwalks didn’t go anywhere. They simply ended right there by the corner. Fast foward a few years, and I got a letter from the museusm asking for a donation. I replied with a scathing call out about that cornerl’s lack of sidwalks to the museum, and that there was not doubt that this was an intentional decision to discourage the People of Color in the neighborhood to the South from coming to the museum . I told them I wouldn’t even consider giving them any money until there were sidewalks from that corner to the museum. About a year later I saw that they had put sidewalks in over to the museum. I don’t know if my rant affected that decision, but I would like to think so. I take my friend to doctor appointments, and often even medical facilities aren’t very well equiped for wheelchairs. And I often think that the “get out of accessibilty requirements free” for historic buildings as used as an excuse not to go to the trouble and expense. Also, if you all haven’t watched the documentary Crip Camp you definintely should. It is about a hippy run camp for disabled kids in 1971. They had a film crew in for the camp so there is lots of real video of the kids at the camp. The film follows many of them into their adulthood where they became leaders in the Disability Rights movement! Fabulous movie, produced by the Obamas.

  22. Sheila — It’s just not handicap services. It’s everything everywhere! The workforce has shrunk (I don’t know where they all went) but people who used to inhabit low-paying service jobs are gone. I guess they just don’t want to work as wheelchair gofers or sales clerks or cashiers or at stocking shelves anymore. And why should they when they can make $15 an hour at Mickey D’s?
    I hear your frustration, but I think we’re all affected by this in one way or another.

  23. From what I have gathered over the time that I’ve been reading/responding to your blog, this situation does not surprise me.
    Sadly, rather, it seems to fit into the general official Indiana culture of disregard for ordinary people, who are not part of, or mega-donors to,
    its entrenched power structure.
    Had your husband, or you, been one of those folks calling ahead, announcing who you were, there might have been a battle among
    those with access to wheelchairs, to be the first to accommodate you.

  24. Many years ago, I broke both bones in my ankle and had surgery/wore a cast/used crutches for weeks.

    It sounds odd, but I’ve always been grateful for that experience. It taught me how difficult life can be when you’re in that situation and I’m a LOT more perceptive and helpful because of it.

    Since then, public facilities have become much more ”friendly” to disabled people and all you need to do to appreciate that is travel in countries which don’t make that effort.

  25. I work in a large medical center and it is hard to find wheelchairs. Now, I work in one of their ambulatory clinics but I think we only have 2 wheelchairs for the building.

    The clinic I currently work in is the geriatric psychiatry clinic/Alzheimer and Dementia–we see folks older than 65 who have bipolar/schizophrenia/depression/anxiety, etc…but we also see those who have Alz/dementia with behavioral problems as well as those who have neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Huntington Disease when these folks start to have psychosis d/t these disorders.

    I am quite frankly dismayed at the lack of any services for anyone over 65. Medicare can suck it and rarely pays for anything. Thank heaves for GoodRX coupons. However, since Americans have an ageism issue the elderly and their healthcare needs are too often ignored. There is nothing in place for the caregivers which is often an 80 year old spouse taking care of a very ill person especially those w/ Alz and dementia. There is nothing–insurance will not cover for nothing in the way of home health, blood draws, etc…our society is dreadful.

    I also find it interesting that the only medical fellows that we have interested in geriatric psychiatry are 1st to 3rd born immigrants coming from countries where elders are honored and respected.

    Our country is not set up for anyone who has any form of disabilities–cognitive or otherwise

  26. These stories are terrible and the whole situation is unconscionable. I have “invisible” disabilities: A very bad anxiety disorder with panic attacks starting at age 11, bi-polar treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, and ADHD, which I’ve had all my life but was unheard-of or ignored and only diagnosed when I was 38 years old. All three of these conditions involve a lot of suicides, and I have two in my family and have fought it myself. I take my medications and see my doctor for an hour once a month. I’m almost 68 now, thankfully physically mobile but with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. Getting any help or consideration for mental illnesses requires me to attempt to explain what I need while having so much anxiety I can barely manage to state my case without beginning to weep from the strain, forgetting or leaving out things I need to say, and making decisions about things like surgery without any help, which is frightening and in one case caused me to have an unnecessary surgery that could have, or already could have had, some very bad consequences. All of these things are in the charts of every healthcare provider, but it never occurs to them that I’m thinking with a compromised brain. I have in the past needed my husband to push me in a wheelchair cart at the store because of weakness caused by wrongly-treated thyroid disease, and I saw firsthand what all the people on your comment thread are experiencing. People looked at me with disdain, to say the least. The only thing I can think of to do for “invisible” disabilities is to fashion a wheelchair hat, which I have already designed. I hope it would not offend anyone in a wheelchair- people like me need to be seen too, even though, as your article illustrates, it frequently does not help. People with disabilities and the homeless are the only segments of society that are ignored, reviled, and struggle daily with attitudes that only add another dimension to an already difficult to impossible situation.

  27. Rebecca–I hear you! I had a friend who had MS–she looked fine and the comments she would get for parking in a handicap spot were dreadful.

    It is unfortunate but I am fully aware of what you have to go through and unfortunately too many in the medical field struggle w/ treating anyone with any form of behavioral health concern. I also know when I worked as a cardio-thoracic nurse that women were often diagnosed with anxiety when they were actually having heart problems. Healthcare has not escaped the bonds of racism, sexism, ageism, misogyny and stigma towards a variety of issues

  28. Rebecca; people with disabilities such as your much more serious and long list and my Meniere’s Disease and Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo which effects our entire lives are increased when doctors to not understand or refuse to accept our “compromised” lives. I recently changed doctors due to my limited driving and am having problems getting my new doctor to separate my 85 years of age from the disabilities which began at age 55 and are not geriatric issues. I like your term “compromised brain”; my two inner ear problems are caused by otology and neurotology destruction. My severe imbalance is a vestibular disorder and regular physical therapy is an impossibility for me and will not resolve the problem; the argument rages on for years. To have “people” not understand increases our handicap situations but it is much worse when our doctors refuse to accept the realities of our day-to-day lives and that another pill will not cure the problem. Donald Trump stated that beautiful and talented deaf actress Marlee Maitlin was retarded as all deaf people are, and refused to hire her on his TV program. I wonder how many others have that same belief due to some situations I have dealt with.

    Hang on, Sloopy! Rebecca, you are one tough woman. Thank you for your openness regarding the many difficulties in your life; and thanks to Sheila for her vent on these issues today.

  29. I concur with your rant, and am perhaps as guilty. Before moving to Indianapolis, I lived in a self-managed condo (5 stories, built in ’62). We made no access accommodations because the building came that way. None of us thought about it.

    Then we had a new owner, a wheelchair-bound young man and his family. He came to us, threatening to sue us. I simply told him that we were a community and he just needed to tell us what he needed. We built a ramp for him and a few other accommodations. He said that he had never experienced such cooperation before.

    This is not to brag about our condo, but to testify to his experiences in the ‘90s and before. I think that too often we lack imagination to think what barriers we erect when we design our buildings and streets.

  30. Many of us rant the same rant! The ADA is on paper but not worth a lot when it could really make things easier.

  31. Sadly, publicly shared wheelchairs frequently get stolen. They frequently seen at the scrapyard. Traveling with your own, light weight collapsible chair solves many problems.

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