In some ways I am fortunate. I can move about a little, I can get up and down a few steps, and in and out of taxis (with some difficulty). I have also gained a certain amount of prestige and position in the world, and thereby receive courtesies and assistance not usually available to most disabled persons.
Yet, my continuing agony is just to get from here to there-to get around, to be mobile. In my work it is necessary to travel almost constantly and to to make countless precisely timed arrivals and departures. Like most disabled people, I am always more or less anxious about how I am going to get where I am going during the allotted travel time.
The entire transportation chain-cars, taxis, trains, buses and airplanes-is designed as though everyone in the world were young and fleet of foot.
Let me put you in a wheelchair for a moment and take you on an imaginary trip. Already you know enough not even to try most buses. You know what to expect with the standard passenger bus in America today. Up a flight of steps, and down a narrow aisle into a seat. There is no way that you can possibly use that bus without having people bodily carry you in and out of it.
You probably will opt for a taxi. It is difficult enough for an able-bodied person to get in and out of a taxi, much less someone who is disabled. However, you manage to transfer from the wheelchair to the seat (usually the front seat) with help. Your wheelchair is stowed in the trunk.
Now you're at the airport, and have struggled out of the cab with as much difficulty as you got into it. You have already made reservations two weeks ahead-as demanded for disabled people by many airlines-and you wait until they can find someone to push your wheelchair. Eventually someone arrives, and you are wheeled toward the boarding gate.
You pray there is a "jetway" to your plane-that is, a telescoping passageway that lets you go directly from your waiting area to the plane cabin. If not, then it is going to be necessary for you to be put on a very narrow, highbacked uncomfortable chair with no arms that you feel you are going to fall out of, and to be bodily hauled up the steel steps of the plane, bumping the whole way.
Because of the great problems you cause in handling, all airlines put you on the plane before everyone else, and wait until everybody else is off before taking you out.
Because of the constant need for you to be shifted to and from the taxi, out of your chair at the plane, in and out of your seat, back into your chair, and so on, a lot of strange people have had to handle you rather familiarly over and over. They are generally not trained in the task, so they will probably be awkward and embarrassed, and will make the entire process a considerable trial for you.
Now you are on the plane and traveling a considerable distance. you will be on the plane several hours, a period made even longer by the fact that you had to get on the plane early and will have to stay on it longer than everyone else. Your bodily functions are the same as everyone else's. What do you do?
I can tell you what you DON'T do! You don't use the facilities available to everyone else. If you have a long trip, you will have to prepare for it for several days. You may have to take drugs to dehydrate your body of all possible fluids. If you can't tolerate dehydration, as is the case with many disabled people, you may have to fast, with no food or liquids for three days or so before the trip. And when they get you into the seat, you pray. You pray that you haven't picked up a bug or something else which might make it necessary for you to use a lavatory. And you pray that the cruel treatment to which you have been forced to subject your body will not cause you serious medical problems after you get off the plane.
In any event, you are in that seat to stay, no matter what, until they come to get you as the last passenger. CAPTION: Illustration, by Bob Soule for The Washington Post; Picture, Itzhak Perlman-Photo by Clive Barda, London