Whenever I travel it’s a generally positive experience, save for a bit of anxiety I experience about flying. Although, I’m happy to say that over the summer I conquered flying a big trip solo for the very first time. I had managed to get to the West Coast without much incident or hassle. I’m all for that.
Usually when I fly I’m always sure to book wheelchair assistance in the airport, as I find that most of the time distances to get to the gate are far and long. If i try to walk those distances with the crutches I’m exhausted by the time I get to the plane itself. It’s also difficult for me to stand in long lines for a long time, so the wheelchair certainly helps when getting through security.
This one time, though, I reached security and had an odd exchange with a TSA agent. I’ve always felt like interacting with them was like reaching through a mixed bag of sorts; you end up with either a positive or negative result. Well, this instance definitely didn’t feel positive.
The TSA agent asked me if I could stand up and walk through the security machines. I understood her wanting to clarify, since just because someone is using a wheelchair, it doesn’t automatically mean they can’t walk. So, I answered that I couldn’t stand in the machine/scanner or walk through without someone or something to hold onto. I felt as though my answer was as honest and as specific as they come, so I felt it sufficient to me.
The TSA agent then said, “So the answer to that question is no, you can’t.”
….What just happened? Was my first thought. Did she really just say that? It felt like blatant ableism on her part, though in the moment I got so frazzled that I didn’t stick up for myself or point out that fact, which is a truth I deeply regret. Who was this person that they felt they could dictate my abilities and/or challenges? How did she know what I can and can not do in our literal five-minute-long interaction? She knew nothing about my physical limitations and capacity, yet she felt she could oversimplify my situation and my reality.
Actually, Random TSA Agent, I can walk, thank you very much. Not that it’s any of your damn business, but I do feel obligated to point that out when you attempt to belittle and humiliate me in front of everyone. Let me say that the feelings of humiliation did not stem from the possibility of not being able to walk; it stemmed from being told what I can and can not do like I was a child, when I know fully well what I can and can not do, and that this TSA Agent was completely and utterly wrong. She also had an attitude, no less. She was ableist and simply put, a jerk. Listen, all I’m trying to do is get home. Instead I had to try really hard not to let her ignorant and hurtful comments taint what had been a wonderful vacation in paradise.
If you are reading this, are physically non-disabled, and are in some kind of position of authority, don’t do this. Don’t be like this tactless agent. Let the person living with a disability tell you what they can handle, because they are living and breathing their reality, NOT you.