Monday, June 27, 2011

Rolling East: Traveling in a Wheelchair

International Symbol for Disabled Person

This is a bit of a departure from my usual posts because it doesn’t speak directly about some aspect of life in Taiwan. I recently traveled to the US for an opportunity to attend a conference and catch up with some friends and relatives. Most of my traveling is done in a wheelchair. Oh, I can walk, but airports present a bit of a problem for disabled people. There are often long distances that must be covered, long lines (like at customs), or movements between gates, especially between domestic and international gates that must be traversed in ridiculously short periods of time. I can walk, but I’m afraid it looks a lot more like the “Zombie Shuffle” than walking, and running is completely out of the question.
Fortunately, most airlines provide wheelchair service to disabled passengers. They coordinate with the airports to transfer you between gates and airlines, to the luggage carousel, through customs and immigration, even out to the curb to the taxi stand. Wheelchair passengers are the first ones boarded and the last ones off. One real benefit is that the “Wheelchair Operators” are knowledgeable about the airport; transfer procedures and security processes and can just take you through the process without any hassle.

There is one drawback to wheelchair travel…security. Wheelchairs, for obvious reasons, can’t pass through metal detectors. For me to get out of the chair and try to walk through is a extremely difficult, so in every instance I was required to endure the dreaded TSA Pat Down Procedure.

I’m fairly pragmatic, I don’t like the intrusion into my personal space, I don’t like the erosion of my rights, but I really hate missing my flights, so I’m willing to endure it, if it will keep old women and babies with bombs off of planes. I’m not so sure about the effectiveness of this system, though, because we are so careful to avoid profiling and looking like we’re picking on people, that I’m afraid the ones who are the real threats are just getting on planes, flying around, and laughing at us.

Part of the Dreaded TSA Pat Down
 The TSA agents that I encountered were professional, polite and thorough. They explained the entire process, asked me if I wanted a private screening and then told me exactly what they were going to do just before they did it. Actually, I was impressed, with the care with which they violated me. I even had the thought that they probably didn’t want to do the pat down anymore that I wanted them to do it. As with anything professionalism varies from person to person. Maybe I was lucky and encountered only agents with a high degree of professionalism, in any case, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

I have to tell you after watching the videos and reading the reports I expected it to be horribly humiliating and dehumanizing but, really, it wasn’t. What was horribly humiliating and dehumanizing was high school PE class: Guys standing around snapping guys with towels and yukking it up about each other’s shortcomings, THAT was humiliating and dehumanizing. But throughout the entire pat down process, in three airports, I didn’t even see one rolled up towel and there were no snickers or nicknames.

I still think the whole thing is an intrusion on people’s rights and privacy. I still think the policy needs to be changed to be more realistic, but for the guys on the line who do the pat downs, when it’s handled professionally like it was with me, I appreciate their willingness to endure a lot more pat downs than I will have to endure. I travel occasionally; they have to do that every day.

But it didn’t stop at the US, when arriving in China, on the way to Taiwan; I had to go through the exact same process I did in the US. The only difference was that a young woman gave this old man the TSA Pat Down. My emotions in that situation were somewhat different.

In all other ways traveling in a wheelchair is a comfortable and less stressful way for disabled people to travel.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Cultural Unawareness:  The Wheels of Bureaucracy Turn Slowly
Random Asianess:  The Rest Stop

Photo Credit:  Pat Down procedure:

No comments:

Post a Comment