On Being a Nuisance

My sculptor friend from Nova Scotia put it this way: “Airline travel in Canada is pleasant.  In the States, I feel like I’m a nuisance.”  If a sighted, exquisitely independent Canadian feels like a nuisance, where does that leave me?  I like to feel that my need for a little extra help does not make me a nuisance.  And if I feel I’m being treated as such, I try not to internalize it.  Blindness itself is a nuisance.  I don’t need any extra baggage.

Randy requires accommodation, but I don’t consider him a nuisance.  I simply nod and smile at questions like, “You mean that dog gets to ride in the cabin too?”  But when a fellow traveler tries to pass off Frisky their pet ferret as a bona fide service animal, I get riled.  I understand how people with disabilities come to be viewed with cynicism and distrust, like we’re all out to beat the system.  Our needs become degraded to the level of the scammers, for whom each whim becomes an entitlement.

George said it best.  George was the O’Hare skycap who escorted me from gate to curb.  While we talked sports, George admonished travelers who blocked our path or distracted Randy from his work.  “Some people got no respect,” said George.

Travel is stressful.  So I practice patience and tolerance.  I respect rules and regulations.  I don’t blame the T.S.A. for making me get half-undressed at Security, nor to have my methodically packed stuff spread among nine plastic bins.  Measures seem extreme, but then so are folks who blow up planes to make their point. 

A little help and consideration get Randy and me safely home.  And we’re grateful for that help, for those who came before, those for whom being treated like a nuisance was a call for change.

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3 Responses to On Being a Nuisance

  1. Jenny T says:

    Hi Jeff, This is one of the reasons why I hate commercial air travel. Although Blazer and I have been to thirty-five of the fifty states, and even though we have traveled to several countries, I often find myself cringing at the prospect of having to deal with everyone’s issues about our traveling. There are the people who dislike dogs, and then, there are the people who think seeing guidedogs means they can pet them or talk to them at will. Finally, there are people who pretend to have a disability, just to get extra attention, because they think we’re getting special treatment because of our disabilities. The Safe and Sound blog actually did a wonderful piece on this topic, and the children I work with, who are far better behaved and far more insightful than most I meet at the airport, tell me “Ms. T pay them no mind. As you can’t see them anyway, try to pretend they don’t exist, and maybe they’ll go away.” Of course, these same children also told me that Blazer and I need to be trained as super ninja’s, so that we can battle our way safely through our travels. Wonderful writing as always. Blazer and I hope spring comes soon, because I’m really tired of taking 10 minutes to get dressed for the outdoors. Jenny and her wonderful guidedog Blazer

    • bethfinke says:

      Thanks, Jenny, for the call-out to my Safe & Sound blog. I am blind and travel with a Seeing Eye dog, and my husband Mike wrote that post as a guest blog on “Safe & Sound” after witnessing a woman testing the service dog rules at an airport when we were there traveling. Two issues going on here: one, outright lying about the status of one’s dog and one’s disability (or lack thereof). The other issue is stickier: what kinds of dogs qualify as service dogs—more to the point—what kinds of disabilities/maladies constitute a legitimate need for a service dog to travel on a plane with its companion.
      Mike (and I) believe there is no wiggle room when it comes to this issue. If you don’t have a disability and you don’t need a service dog, You’re lying. You’re disrespecting people who really need the dog for basic issues like mobility, and all the work The Seeing Eye and others have done to advocate for guide dogs to be admitted to public places. And all the work the respected schools do breeding and training a dog to behave flawlessly so as not to be a nuisance in public.
      As Mike might say to dog lovers who think it’s cute to lie about their dogs: “It ain’t.” He and I have encountered it countless times. A young woman who sat next to me on a flight actually told the story, giggling throughout, about how her father regularly dons a pair of dark glasses and puts a fake harness he fashioned onto their German shepherd so the dog can go on board with them. Haha.
      To this, Mike would have another news flash to people who think their dog is as well-behaved as a well-trained service dog: “It ain’t.” Any time a fake service dog acts up, it’s an insult to everyone who really needs their dog, and to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who are trying to do what’s right.
      How does Mike, an average guy without any obvious disabilities, know this? Well, years of experience. His latest story goes like this: while my Seeing Eye dog Whitney and I waited to check our bags to fly to New Orleans in December, he couldn’t help but notice a woman making herself very conspicuous as she barked at the airline employee behind the counter. Conspicuous because, as he described it, she was very tall and very broad and wearing a leopard skin jacket and skirt. He described one of her luggage arrangements looking “like a wheelie luggage skyscraper.” Down at the bottom was the actual wheelie suitcase, and he said she had strapped “floors of who knows what” above that.
      She was up there for probably 10 minutes as we weaved our way through the maze. We checked in, headed to the gate and passed her just as she was about, finally, to wheel away from the counter. At that point a whir of grey and white spun around near the top of her little tower—two dogs were in a fabric cage of sorts with a screen in front, and shrieking barks—or something like barks—pierced the air.
      The airline person said, “Oh, I didn’t realize–there will be a charge for those dogs.” At which point, the woman said, “Oh, those are my assistance dogs.”
      Mike observed that “the only person in that exchange who needed assistance was the poor airline rep”. I wanted to ask the conspicuous woman what her dogs did for her – you know, those of us with disabilities can get away with asking such questions — but Mike herded us off before I could ask. It wasn’t because he wanted to avoid conflict, he said. It was because when he travels, he’s crazy nervous until he gets into the airplane seat.
      In this regard, he and I both have to respect each others disabilities. As much as I was dying to confront this woman (honestly, have you ever heard of someone traveling with *two* assistance dogs?!) I knew it would be best for Mike’s mental health to keep moving.
      Sorry, long comment. Obviously this is an issue that is close to home for me. Plus you caught me after my second cup of coffee this morning. Great post. Keep writing, Jeff.

    • Carl Dalka says:

      Hi Jenny my name is Carl. I’ve know Jeff for a few years. And today you come into my life singing a new song. Maybe the band at the Light house could beat it out for us. Let see- it went … “Ms. T—- pay them no mind. — As you can’t see — anyway, — try to pretend —- they don’t exist, —- and maybe they’ll go away.”
      Swell words. The music is in my head. The kids may be wrong. The idiots don’t go away.. They stick… they stick like glue — and stay for years…. I met some, I can not forget….

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