A patient in a hospital waiting area who had her kids with her got chatting, started grilling me on why I didn’t have children, refused to take “too disabled and nearly forty” for an answer, and let one of her toddlers start playing with my wheelchair. Mercifully I was called in to see the doctor at that point. I saw “intrusive questions” mentioned on your site somewhere, and if we started on that one, we’d be here till Christmas.
My partner had a DVT two months after we met, and borrowed one of my walking sticks for a few weeks while his leg was healing up. He said it was a real eye-opener.
The airport one I mentioned earlier was one of the most frightening, if you want to update it (part 2). I’d tripped up when carrying my lunch before I left, so I’d had a fall and no food. I couldn’t have pain meds without food, so when I got to the airport and they arrived with the wheelchair to take me through, I asked to be taken to a restaurant. Big fuss over that, you’re not really meant to do anything other than be wheeled through the airport when you get assistance, you’re not even meant to use the toilets. But I insisted, I’d got there early as they make you do, and there was a lot of time. So I ended up in the restaurant with no one fetching me when scheduled to, hearing my name called over the system, trying to ring Easyjet to get this sorted out.
When the man came with the wheelchair, he was so angry at me for having waited in the restaurant. He wheeled me through really roughly, starting off with muttering, and escalating to full-on verbal abuse. I started calling out to passers-by for help. They all looked away, and this was in the early 2000s, so no one was filming me on their phones, which I suppose was a blessing. The airport employee had been pushing the wheelchair faster and more roughly, and when I started calling out for help, he said something loudly, in disgust, and pushed the wheelchair away, letting go so that it spun in a circle. He stalked off muttering, and eventually a security guard came and pushed me silently to the gate. When I got there, the air stewards scolded me for being late, telling me I’d held them up and nearly missed the flight.
I never received a word of apology. I rang the airline to complain a few days later, but I don’t think it was actioned. It felt like misogynist ableist abuse, specifically. I stopped flying not long after that, I was too ill for the trips and I was now well aware of what could go wrong, on top of the usual issues with airport assistance failing to materialise.
The high point was being left by the door of an aircraft for twenty minutes with snow blowing in on me, and asked every few minutes if I was sure I couldn’t use the plane stairs to get down. I said no, so as they had lost the ambilift, I had to put up with two strange men carrying me down the stairs instead, which was invasive and uncomfortable. I really hate the way you are expected to let strangers handle your body if you’re disabled, it’s one reason why I gave up on social services.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex