By Jennifer Digmann
I was talking to our good friend the other night, and I was telling him about the incredible opportunity Dan and I have to go to Washington, D.C.
We were invited to the nation’s capital to serve as the Michigan delegates at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Public Policy Conference in March, which means that Dan and I will be meeting with our federal legislators to advocate for policies that affect people with MS. We couldn’t be more excited!
Doing this is something we both are comfortable with. Dan and I enjoy sharing our stories and appreciate getting the opportunity to advocate to improve the lives of people, like ourselves, who are living with multiple sclerosis. But in sharing this exciting news with our friend, I confessed that, “I really am scared about this trip.”
Then our friend rolled his eyes at me, and somewhat blew off what I was saying. He asked, “What do you mean, you’re scared? You guys do this all the time.”
I’m afraid of flying.
Well okay, I’m not really afraid of flying per se. What scares me are all the details associated with flying when you have to rely on a wheelchair for mobility, like I do. The reality is, when I travel by plane I am putting my mobility for the entire trip in the hands of total strangers.
From the moment I enter the airport, employees who have just met me are helping me transfer in and out a different chairs. While they may be nice, they likely do not know the small nuances that go into transferring a woman with multiple sclerosis.
These kind strangers get a little up close and personal for people I’ve just met. Typically I either embarrassingly apologize for being slightly heavy, for being so spastic or for any other MS-related symptom that needs to be treated.
Considering this trip will involve a connector flight with a layover in Ohio, I will have to make such a transfer 12 times. Starting with the transfer from my power wheelchair to the airport wheelchair; to the airplane aisle chair; and finally into my airline seat, only to do the whole thing all over again three more times before we touch down in D.C.
And while these airline employees are maneuvering me in an out of my chairs, I am putting my faith in their coworkers who are responsible for disassembling and reassembling my power wheelchair. Even after all the transfers are successfully handled and my power wheelchair is put back together, I face more unknowns: will they have accessible transportation to get me from the airport to my hotel and will the hotel or city where I’m staying have accessible transportation to take me to the places I need to go?
Once I shared all these concerns with our friend, he fully understood why I am a little scared.
Scared, yes, but I know I can do it.
I know I need to do my homework. I will call the airlines’ customer service about proper handling of my power wheelchair and me, as well as connect with the hotel staff about accessible transportation to and from the airport. While I have them on the line, I’ll also confirm we are assigned a barrier-free room with a roll-in shower for our stay.
Preparing for this trip has the potential of being somewhat stressful, but Dan helped me realize it all will be worth it. He asked me, “Five years from now, will you look back and regret more that you decided not to go to D.C. and have your voice heard? If you think you will, then the few days of work and stress that come with planning it are so worth it.”
So it looks like Washington, D.C., here we come!