What do you do when you have a bad or good travelling experience when you have a disability?

I have been very lucky that despite my asthma I have been able to travel (mainly to attend conferences). I have travelled via a variety of different methods: train, plane and taxis.

Thanks to the hidden disability lanyard I have been very fortunate in the treatment I have received in airports. I have also been able to use it on trains but now that I am walking with a stick I have noticed people come up to me more to offer help or get up from seats and give me theirs.

I decided to write this blog after some time to think as at the time I was angry, humiliated and really not thinking in a constructive manner. I am now thinking about how to change this negative experience I had into a positive one.

In September I went to Madrid to attend the European Respiratory Society Congress. The travel out was spot on. Arriving at the airport I had my sunflower lanyard on and was helped with my bags at check in and offered the use of a wheelchair to get me up and through security. I declined as I knew I would be seated for a large portion of the day so wanted to take the opportunity to get some walking done.

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The one point that most people dread when going through the airport is security. I know I do. Having a hidden and visible disability and wearing my sunflower lanyard I went up to the special assistance gate at security. An officer asked me if I needed some help. I accepted and she helped me take my laptop and then medical supplies and put them in the trays. She then escorted me to the bit where you walk through the scanner. She explained that they needed to put stick through the X-ray but they had a wooden stick for me to use while I got through the scanner myself. Due to my inability to walk without my shoes and splint on, they made other arrangements and swabbed my shoes, provided a chair for me to sit on while they did this and also stayed with me to help me put everything back in my bag and make sure I was ok.

Boarding the plane was the next challenge. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head. Dreading the thought that we might have to go on a bus to get to the plane and then climb up stairs to get into the plane. I was able to ask at the gate what the boarding situation would be. I was then asked to take a seat behind the gate where I was introduced to the crew and then told I would board the plane when the crew went on too.

It was all so seamless and almost had that too good to be true feeling. It was really refreshing to have such good service in what can be quite a stressful time. I have sent a compliment form into the the airport and BA who were the airline I was flying with.

On the way back the airport experience was polar opposite until I reached the gate to board the plane.

Arriving at security I once again had my sunflower lanyard on and went to the special assistance area for security. This is where I can only say I felt humiliated and felt like totally breaking down. No help was offered at all. I did asked for some help but this fell on deaf ears. The area was not particularly busy so I was shocked that my request was turned down. I sorted all my stuff and got my medication and medical devices out my bag and into a tray, pushed them up the line till they went through the X-ray. I then went to walk through the scanner and was greeted by a security officer who spoke good english and told I couldn’t take my stick through or wear my shoes or my splint. I asked if I could wait and they could go through then if I could be given them back so I could walk through. I was told no and then my hands were taken and I was just about dragged through the scanner, almost falling flat on my face. I was tripping over my foot as I cant move it myself and have no feeling below my knee. I was crying inside just wanting the ground to swallow me up, hating myself that as a young person I was being humiliated in such a way. I kept thinking I should be able to walk normally, I shouldn’t be in this situation. Once I had been dragged through the scanner, my hands were dropped and I was left to try and get myself to the trays with my stuff in and get myself sorted.

I managed to get myself sorted without totally breaking down. On the way out of security there was one of those things that has buttons asking me what my experience was like. I obviously pressed the button with the red sad face. A man then came an asked me why I pressed it. I gave a brief description of what happened and the man just nodded me. No offer of apology or anything.

I just pulled myself together and then joined the others I was travelling with, putting the experience behind me so no one would know just how upset I felt inside.

The rest of the travel home was seamless. I travelled home with Easyjet and once again the staff were very helpful. Unfortunately the seat I was in was considered an emergency exit but they found me another seat which was actually a whole row so I could put my leg up.

After all of it I was so glad to get home and back in my own environment.

One thing I have learnt and looking back I would have done things differently. While in security at Madrid airport I would have advocated for myself. I would have stood my ground and made sure my needs were met rather than be humiliated as I was. I wish at the time I had been able to stand up for myself but I was caught by surprise so I guess I was really shocked. You don’t expect it.

In future I will be prepared. I will have a written explanation of why I need the stick, that I cant walk without it or without my splint, and also what my medical conditions are. I will have this all written in the language of where I am going to. I will also use other communication cards in the language of the country I am going to. I want to be prepared and I don’t want to go through this experience again. I also don’t want others to have this experience as it really destroyed me, my confidence in travelling solo with no support has dwindled. I should be able to travel Im a young person who wants to experience life not be humiliated and shamed into not wanting to travel only own again.

If anything can come from this experience it is that I have learnt more to advocate for myself and also use my situation to prevent others having similar experiences.