In honor of Flashback Friday, I’d like to share a little flashback story.
In March 2015, I went to visit my grandparents in sunny, warm Florida to escape Boston’s below freezing temperatures for Spring Break. The trip was filled with relaxing days reading by the pool or the beach, and nights out to dinner at multiple Floridian restaurants. Even though I was only there for five days, it was so great to catch up with my grandparents and spend a few days away from the stress of college work. When my trip came to a close, I was understandably dreading returning to freezing cold Boston, but very excited to finish my hectic spring semester. However, my trip ended with me stepping off the plane at Logan Airport, only to be greeted with a wheelchair.
It was 10 o’clock at night, so I was mildly exhausted, but as I walked past the array of wheelchairs, there was one name on a wheelchair placard that sent a shock through my exhausted body (maybe I’m over exaggerating a little, but you know what I mean). My name. I was just walking out of the plane, letting out a yawn, and I see this middle-aged guy standing behind a wheelchair with a placard that said, “Alannamarie Kilroy”. But then I thought, maybe I’m seeing things. I quickly took another look. Yup, that was my name. I walked a few steps past the guy, and then realized I couldn’t miss this opportunity to educate/yell at someone for thinking a deaf person needed a wheelchair.
I walked over, waved my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Alanna. So, just to let you know, I don’t need a wheelchair. I may be deaf, but that has nothing to do with my legs.” He quickly asked, “Are you sure?” to which I responded, “Absolutely. Look.” and I made a dance-y move with my legs. Then, I walked away, thinking, what just happened. That was actually the first time I had ever been greeted by a wheelchair.
Since I was flying by myself, I had my mom called the airline ahead of time to let them know that a deaf, female passenger would be on the plane and would need someone to tell her the announcements made by flight attendants and the pilot over the intercom. Somehow, her request transformed into one that also required a wheelchair. HUH?
I mean, your ears aren’t on your legs. So, unless my deaf ears somehow magically turn into paralyzed legs, I don’t need a wheelchair.
Turns out, this type of incident frequently happens to deaf passengers. Why? Miscommunication and/or misconceptions.
A few weeks later, Marlee Matlin (deaf actress who signs) tweeted that she, too, had been greeted by a wheelchair when getting off her plane, and attached a photo of the wheelchair with a placard, reading “Marlee Matlin”. I wish I had gotten a photo of my wheelchair too to share with you all, but I was too caught up in giving some random guy a lesson about deafness. Granted, it wasn’t his fault, but one should understand that your ears are not on your legs. The word deaf is pretty self-explanatory, considering your legs can’t hear, therefore, can’t be deaf.
I asked some of my deaf friends with CIs if the same had happened to them before. Most said no, including ones who fly frequently as I do. I questioned why, then, did it happen to me, and then it dawned on me. I asked, “Do you guys called ahead of time?” Thus, that’s where the miscommunication/misconception comes into play. They did not call ahead, but I did. My friends didn’t think calling ahead was necessary for them, and that’s okay. However, I did because I always like to be prepared and not have to worry about flight attendants not knowing/understanding what to do and me not knowing where to go. Since I was busy doing college work, my mom made the call for me and explained to someone at Logan’s accessibility office that I was deaf and “may need help getting to the next gate”, when she really meant, someone pointing me in the right direction…not wheeling me over. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication on the other end.
Nonetheless, it is completely optional for a deaf individual to call ahead, and I chose to, especially for that flight that had a layover in Atlanta. I was afraid I would miss the flight attendant announcing the gate for the next plane. Fortunately, everything went smoothly in Atlanta: no getting lost, no wheelchair greetings.
So why, getting off of my last flight, did they get a wheelchair for me? Again, miscommunication and/or misconceptions. The disability workers in Atlanta either knew what deafness was or overlooked my request for help, while the Boston office believed I was also handicapped.
Regardless, there are going to be times where I and other deaf individuals face situations that simply don’t make sense as a result of miscommunication or misconceptions. It’s simply a matter of how we handle the situation that will make a difference. We can walk away, yell at the other person, or take the opportunity to educate them. I always try to choose the latter and help clear up any confusion. What’s a day without learning something new? My mom thought the incident was hilarious.