Four colorful and inviting front doors. Three of them have various levels of stairs leading to them and the lights are off inside. The last door is open with light streaming out of it. The door is on ground level and handicap accessible.

Travel, Tears, and Three Decades of Unfinished Business

I remember being on the verge of tears as I sat in my power wheelchair outside the women’s restroom at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.

It was all the restroom attendant’s fault.

Pushed to my emotional limits

OK, so I already was pushed to my emotional limits from the euphoria of the day’s events up to the point that I sat amongst the steady influx of women needing to “go” either before or after their scheduled flights.

An early start to the day

My husband, Dan, and I had been awake since 3:30 a.m. We got up so early to ensure we were on time for a scheduled sunrise ride in a handicapped accessible hot air balloon over the beautiful New Jersey sky. Yes, it was as beautiful, memorable, and priceless as it sounds.

Rushing to the airport

When the ride was finished, our balloon basket touched down, I rolled out, and soon it was rush!rush!rush!rush!rush!rush!rush!rush! off to the airport and catch the plane back to our home state of Michigan. Whew! We made it! We secured our boarding passes, cleared our way through security and arrived at our gate in plenty of time.

That’s when I first felt like crying.

Trouble finding an accessible family restroom

Here’s why: Because of my secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis, I need Dan’s assistance to stand and make transfers in and out of my wheelchair. Accessible family restrooms offer privacy and alleviate stress when we travel. But the Delta ticket agent told me there was only one family restroom in Newark’s airport and the port authority often randomly closes it for no reason. And how’s this for adding insult to injury? The lone family restroom was located in a different concourse from where Dan and my flight to Detroit was departing.

Annoyed but determined

This final fact actually made me less teary-eyed and more angry and annoyed. Angry and annoyed, but totally determined. “Dan will just help me in the ladies' room like he has done so many times before,” I thought to myself. After all, the women’s restroom stalls are private with doors. Plus, we had a flight to catch.

We waited and waited

So, Dan and I rolled over to the restroom and waited. And waited. And waited, keeping our eyes on the clock so we didn’t miss our boarding call. I was trying to be courteous to the women and also to Dan; we will wait until it is not so busy. But the steady influx of women never slowed.

I fortunately made eye contact with the restroom attendant who recognized that I needed help. She walked toward me and in somewhat broken English told me, “Go into the restroom and wait. When it slows down, I will motion for your husband."

She understood my needs

I couldn’t believe it. She was not concerned about a man being in the women’s restroom. She understood my needs and was going to do everything she could to help.

A few minutes later, Dan quickly came into the restroom and I was able to go before my flight. Oh, the relief (literally and figuratively)!

Kindness from a stranger

I never could thank that woman enough, but I don't think she ever would let me. She simply smiled at me and softly shook her head when Dan offered her a $10 tip for her help. We were so grateful for such a simple, kind and considerate accommodation. My needs were considered by a total stranger.

And this is why it was the restroom attendant’s fault that I was on the verge of tears outside the women’s restroom at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.

I have needs and rights, too

This definitely reminded me that kindness abounds in people. But why did there have to be such stress for something able-bodied people readily have available? I am disabled, and I have needs and rights, too.

Access to things most people take for granted

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 – that’s 30 years ago. Three decades later but I still have to struggle for simple access to the basic things most people take for granted.

We need equal access for all

I am tired of that, but I am not too tired to make others aware. There still is a lot of work that needs to be done to accommodate people with disabilities. And the inherent needs of so many shouldn’t be contingent on the kindness of complete strangers, especially when there’s a law in place to ensure equal access for all.

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