First Time Traveling While Disabled

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Last weekend we traveled to Jamaica for a short vacation. Nothing extraordinary about that for the average person. But, this was my first time traveling out of the country as a disabled person. First time riding a bus. First time flying. First time in another country that does not necessarily follow ADA guidelines. I had a lot of anxiety built up ahead of time not knowing what to expect.

We got up at 4 a.m. to meet our bus at 5:15 a.m. and leave for Atlanta by 5:45 a.m. This was a chartered bus especially for this trip as this was a trip for my husband’s work. All of his coworkers and their guests along with the bus driver were very helpful. We made it to the airport without incident.

Pushing my rollator, a special rolling walker that I’ve named Lola, allowed my husband and I to proceed through special lines ahead of other travelers. Nice perk. Once we cleared TSA, who were extremely nice, we were on our own the rest of our time in the Atlanta airport. We did not see a transport cart nor a customer service person with a wheelchair all the way to our gate. This was disappointing and should have been foretelling. Fortunately, we had plenty of time before boarding and were able to take our time. For you see, I can only walk a short way before having to stop and rest for several minutes even with Lola.

Rollator

At the gate I got the gate check-in tag for Lola and hoped that once we left Atlanta she would make it to Montego Bay, Jamaica. With a lot of trepidation, I parked her just outside the door to the plane and made my way to our seats. Of course, we were in the very back. The good thing was that we were allowed to board first and get settled before others boarded. So far, not too shabby.

Upon deplaning in Jamaica Lola was waiting for me as was a customer service agent with a wheelchair. With her help we were able to take shortcuts and speed through customs and immigration. For you see, the plane parked at the gate farthest from where we needed to go. Gary, my husband, pushed Lola with the carryon luggage while I was pushed by the agent. She took us all the way out to the chartered bus waiting for our group. She was tipped well for her efforts.

The bus to the resort had rather steep steps which made it harder for me to enter and exit. It did have plenty of handles for support, and again, those on the trip with us assisted. Thankfully, it was a short ride to the resort.

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Once we arrived at the resort we were able to take an elevator up to registration for our group. I mention this specifically because we went on vacation last year to a multi-level resort without elevators except in the main building. Throughout our stay everyone working there took very good care of us and made our stay most enjoyable. The layout of the resort was flat and compact. This helped tremendously with my ability to be as independent as possible.

The airport in Jamaica and the resort at which we stayed did have handicap bathrooms and handicap stalls. The only issue was the smallness of the toilets themselves. They reminded me of elementary school toilets. Sitting down and getting back up were my biggest problems. If there had not been grip handles to use, then I don’t know what I would have done. Sorry, TMI?

Our experience leaving the resort and making our way through the Montego Bay airport was very similar to our arrival. We were once again given priority boarding. I was again anxious about checking Lola at the gate, but she made it to Atlanta just fine. Too bad the rest of the Atlanta experience wasn’t so sweet.

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The plane landed and was parked at our arrival gate by 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday. The very last gate farthest from customs. No one was at the gate to offer assistance. There was no customer agent in site, no cart to whisk us through the terminal, nothing. Let me tell you something right now. That is a VERY long walk. OMG! It is an interminable walk. The walk from hades and back. I’m not kidding you. For someone that is disabled it is absolutely horrible.

We took every people mover that we came across. I stopped many times to rest. I had no other option. At the junction where you either go straight and then to the left for connecting flights or to the right to get out of the airport (eventually) we got a ride on a cart to the elevators. That was a blessing!

Once we got off the elevator downstairs there was no one around to help. We eventually came across a customer service agent who WALKED with us the rest of the way. Still no cart, no wheelchair, nothing. I asked over and over again without getting a clear answer as to why he couldn’t get us help. At the place we met him the sign said it was another 6 to 8-minute walk for the average person to get to customs.

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The only thing he was able to help us with was going to the head of the line at customs. That was helpful as it kept us from missing our bus. We were the last to arrive at our bus. And, we made it home without further incident.

It took me two days to recover from the ordeal in the Atlanta airport. The disability that I have does not allow me to be active for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time without having to rest at least 20 or so minutes – longer if the activity is very strenuous for me. Pushing my limits like I did almost rendered me nonfunctional.

I will not let that happen again. I will pitch a hissy fit if I have to. And, I still don’t know why there was absolutely no one in our terminal at arrival. It was eerie. The only thing I can think of that might have made a difference is to have had the flight attendants verify assistance was there before we landed.

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