It’s 3:50 am and I am wide awake. I’m freshly showered and dressed, sitting in my motorized wheelchair next to a suitcase and my favored big, red backpack strapped onto my chair. I’m working on breathing calmly as I watch my husband Richard finish tidying up before we leave on a trip.
Accessibility anxiety & travel complications
Although I hate getting up early, I will do it for an early flight to get a vacation started. We prefer taking early flights. It’s a holdover lesson from my father—if you fly early there’s less likely to be delays because the airports have just opened. As the day progresses, so do travel complications. Since traveling with a wheelchair is already complicated, I figure I should do anything possible to avoid other delays or problems.
But despite the fact we’re heading to a relaxing (yet busy) Caribbean cruise—I have anxiety. It’s a specific kind of anxiety. It’s when you rely on an accessible taxicab (already limited in number) to pick you up early in the morning and, if it doesn’t, you are screwed because there is no other way to the airport, which means you would miss your flight and potentially have an expensive trip ruined because a cruise ship doesn’t wait for you just because you need a wheelchair.
OK, so the name of my anxiety is too long. Let’s just cut to the chase and call it: accessibility anxiety.
The anxiety of wheelchair accessibility
Because of this anxiety and the many times it has come to fruition (case in point: when I was taking Richard to a medical procedure last summer and the accessible cab didn’t show, so I had to put him in a regular cab and take the bus to catch up with him), I actually ordered two accessible cabs from two different companies 20 minutes apart. I am hoping that one of them shows.
At 3:55 am, my anxiety gets the best of me and I call the first cab company. They are not scheduled to arrive until 4:15 am, but I cannot help myself and need to know if one is on route. I am delightfully surprised when the dispatcher says he will come in a few minutes. We practically high five in celebration! The accessible cab arrived early and we have no trouble getting to the airport. I cancel the second cab but am so happy I had one as a backup.
I wish that I could say these situations were uncommon, but they are not. Even though I am fortunate to have a good salary and money to spend, I cannot count on the accessibility being there when I need it. Cabs fail to show all the time. So much so, that I rarely book them because I don’t feel they are as dependable as public transit. When I reserve an accessible hotel room, I call to double check and my husband does the same. We limit ourselves to hotels that we feel reliably deliver on basic accessibility. Flying can also be hit and miss, resulting in costly damages to my wheelchair.
Limited wheelchair accessibility will not stop me
But I’m not going to give up living the life I want just because of accessibility anxiety. If I was going to let these issues stop me, I’d never leave the house!
Instead, I make more effort to get out and about. I want other people to see me and consider that the world should be accessible to me and other people with disabilities. Whatever chronic illness, disability, or issue, people of all abilities should be able to travel their community and beyond. Humans build the world and we have the choice to make it more accessible in construction and also attitude.
So I’ll grapple with my accessibility anxiety with the hope that one day it will no longer be necessary.
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