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.