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It all depends on communication

I recently fell down the stairs and injured my ankle a few days before I left to visit relatives in Canada. I then had the frustrating experience of having to use a wheelchair to get through 5 airports in one day on my own. It made me realise how it all depends on communication and how reliant I was on the communication skills of the people pushing the wheelchair and how helpless I was when communication went wrong.

I had gone on-line before leaving to pre-book a wheelchair but this was confusing as each airport and airline had different rules.

It started in Edinburgh where I was directed to a calm and very competent young man who told me exactly what was happening, where he was taking me, checking if I wanted to use the ladies room or buy a coffee, helping me get through security and then to the door of the plane where I managed to hop to my seat. ‘Great’ I thought -‘This is going to be a doddle!’

Same thing happened at Heathrow with a lovely woman who chatted all the way – checked if I needed anything and told me that she had been doing this job for several years after her mother had died and absolutely loved helping people. However …. at Boston where I had to go through customs, collect my luggage and recheck in and go through security… That’s when it all went wrong.

The man who came to ‘help’ was a man of few words and despite telling him repeatedly when my next flight was due and that I didn’t have much time, he seemed totally unconcerned. He dumped my case across my knees ( heedless of my injury); he took me to the wrong terminal building despite me asking if we were we going to the Air Canada terminal; he never looked at me or asked if I was OK; he walked incredibly slowly paying no heed to me showing him the time on my boarding pass and the final straw was when he stopped at the corner of one building and said he could go no further as he only worked for transatlantic flights! He then made me get out of the wheelchair and left me to hobble to the Air Canada desk with both my check-in baggage and my hand luggage. By the time I got to the check-in desk the flight had closed and I was told I was too late and I would need to get another flight the day after!

Fortunately the Air Canada staff could see that I was struggling and persuaded the baggage handlers to accept my case as I was ‘disabled’ and I was allowed on the flight….just!

The staff at Toronto and Winnipeg airports were much more helpful but for me it was a real insight into how dependent someone in a wheelchair is and how things can either be made pleasant and smooth or can go horribly …wrong depending on people’s communication.