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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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Janus Galante moderator
    3 days ago

    Jennifer,
    my stomach dropped as I read this. How I wished all the rest of your experience there could have been equal to the balloon trip that you and Dan took!

    I can only imagine the anguish and frustration you must have felt at that time. Words can’t even begin to express…

    Three cheers for that wonderful, caring bathroom attendant, and that help finally, at last, came to you!

    You certainly are correct in saying there is still alot of work that needs to be done to accomodate people with disabilities.

    I hope you never have to experience that again.

    Thanks so much for sharing this very personal and important experience with us all. Janus

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    24 hours ago

    Thank you so much for your caring and kind words, Janus! Unfortunately, these kinds of experiences are somewhat par for the course when you need to use a wheelchair. But, you learn to get through them, move forward and don’t give them the power to ruin incredible experiences – like riding in a hot air balloon 😉 -Jennifer

  • KarinSmith
    4 days ago

    Dear Jennifer!
    I so feel your pain.
    Here in sunny South Africa we do not even have the legislation in place!
    I am annoyed with my work place 12/24.Slash 6.
    Just remember how strong and brave you are.
    Giving up is not an option!
    Strongs my dear!
    Karin xxx

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    23 hours ago

    Thanks for checking in, @karinsmith! I’m so sorry to hear you’re annoyed with your work place and that there isn’t legislation in place in South Africa for people living with disabilities. And right back at you: just remember how strong and brave YOU are! And thanks for the reminder to help me (and others) that giving up is not an option! -Jennifer

  • Sue
    4 days ago

    Same thing happened to me in LAX in Los Angeles. After a six hour flight I was told that there was only one accessible bathroom and that was in a different terminal. I thought I was going to die. How can Jet Blue say that it’s not necessary to have an accessible bathroom?

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    23 hours ago

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Sue. I’m sorry to hear you had a similar experience at LAX! And I’m wondering if the issue was because of Jet Blue or does it go even higher to the airport itself? Either way, this is why it is so important for us and others to share their stories and advocate for change to benefit people living with disabilities. -Jennifer

  • BobbyC
    4 days ago

    I was a licensed professional engineer responsible for designing buildings, building sites, roads and other facilities used by the public when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted. Consequently, my Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis advanced to a stage that caused me to use a motorized wheelchair, even over areas that I had designed (some designs that were disappointing). If you EVER have access problems at any facility open to the public, I urge you to go to http://www.ADA.gov and make a complaint. Doing that will help us all.

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    23 hours ago

    Great to hear from you, @bobbyc! You have such great perspectives from your personal experiences that truly show both side of the situations. Thanks for the directives and information on how people can move forward and improve their circumstances. -Jennifer

  • Janus Galante moderator
    3 days ago

    Many thanks BobbyC,
    for sharing this important link with us, and thank you for sharing your story as well. It is equally as important!

    Janus

  • Toledo34287
    4 days ago

    I agree that a lot more needs to be done!
    I’m just amazed that you were able to wait that long to go.

    For me, “I have to go” means now, right now.

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    23 hours ago

    Thanks for your comments, @toledo34287! I totally understand your levels of urgency in having to go “right now.” Fortunately I take some medicine to help control that but as many of us with MS know, medication isn’t always 100% effective, right? 😉 -Jennifer

  • vickkygwen
    4 days ago

    I totally get you. Several years ago I was traveling with my manual chair through DIA and needed to use the bathroom before my flight. I waited and waited and waited for the single handicap stall in the women’s restroom. Finally the NOT handicapped person left. She acted as if it was no big deal. I was ready to commit murder over a bathroom stall!

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    23 hours ago

    I totally get you, @vickkygwen! But when something like this happens, I need to take a deep breath and remind myself that not all disabilities are visible. But by the same token, for as much as I need to understand where the other person is coming from, they also need to understand where I’m coming from as a person who is in a wheelchair and can’t stand on my own. It’s all about empathy and respect. -Jennifer

  • Storyteller45
    4 days ago

    Caution to seeing the woman in the handicapped stall before you as “NOT” handicapped. Although not in an assistive chair, the urgency in MS to go “now” can be overwhelming and an embarrassing accident about to happen. I use them if I really need them, and do not feel that any woman who needs to go that badly should be judged for doing so. #NotMyShoes

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    23 hours ago

    Well said, Storyteller45. As I noted in the above comment, not all disabilities are visible. -Jennifer

  • KarinSmith
    4 days ago

    If she has balance and can walk then she could have used a normal bathroom and left the hanicapped stall for people needing it more!

  • Michelle
    2 weeks ago

    We have come a long ways (as I am reminded by a friend in Africa. They have it much worse- including trying to eliminate a superstition in her part of the country that says it will bring you lots of good luck and wealth if you kill a physically disabled person. I am still having a hard time believing it, but she was very adminote about it and told stories of what families will do to protect their children). I met her at a training conference for people working with people with mental and physical disabilities. Here is the irony– I was at a conference that is supposed to be for people with disabilities and I had to speak to the guy in charge because the room set up for the conference and for meals was so crammed that I had limited seating options. I was only with my walker and ended up buying a snickers bar for one of the lunches because the chairs were so close together I couldn’t maneuver my feet so I could get into a seat without tripping. The tables and chairs were so close together that I couldn’t walk between tables- only on the outskirts. I found the irony to be very sad.

  • KarinSmith
    4 days ago

    That is why i prefer to not go to such places.

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Thanks for checking in, Michelle! That is quite ironic and so incredibly unfortunate. We’ve had those kinds of experiences where when we go to conferences, we need to get to the dinners as early as we can to ensure we can sit at a table on the outside edge as we never would be able to work our way into the tables in the middle. Yes, we’ve also found a Snickers and a bag of Combos from the vending machine make a decent lunch when we can’t find a seat 😉 Good for you for talking to the person in charge and making him aware for next time! -Jennifer

  • Kim Dolce moderator
    2 weeks ago

    My dear Jennifer, I’m so sorry you had that stress on you, as if traveling isn’t stressful enough! Yes it shouldn’t be contingent on the kindness of strangers since there is already a law. Seems that we experience the same brick walls as any other minority has in their struggle for the basic civil right of equal access, from being served at a lunch counter to finding a handicapped restroom. The majority doesn’t even think about this stuff, and some that do–like a very immediate family member of mine–think that tax dollars shouldn’t be spent on curb cutouts because he doesn’t see anybody in a wheelchair using them where we live. Same goes for handicap-accessible bathrooms. Are we just preaching to the choir?What are we going to do with this kind of thinking?

    Hope for the kindness of strangers, I imagine.

  • Dan and Jennifer Digmann moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing your perspectives, Kim. Indeed, we just need to keep advocating, sharing our stories and show why equal access is so important. And it isn’t just people with disabilities who benefit from things like curb cutouts. We imagine families out for a walk pushing their baby in a stroller appreciate them just as much, right? 😉 -Jennifer

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