My father found this Wall Street Journal article about people who “cheat” by using wheelchair service at the airport to skip past long security lines:
I really don’t know quite what to think about it. It’s good journalism–it tells the truth and it’s not horribly biased.
On the one hand, I’m one of the legitimately disabled people who has to deal with long waits for wheelchairs that may be exacerbated by cheaters. I’ve had 30+ minute waits at both LAX and Sea-Tac (both of which came up in the article). I’ve never missed a flight due to a too-long wait for a wheelchair, but at LAX I came mighty close. Cheaters make us all look bad, and make it harder for every person with a legitimate need to get the help they need in a difficult and stressful environment.
On the other hand…
Grand. Great. Thanks a lot, WSJ, for making it just *that much harder* for people with legitimate need for wheelchair service but who don’t class themselves as “disabled” and who already worry that they’re “cheating” if they use the service. I grayed out and collapsed in the TSA line at SFO in 2007. Yet I still had to be talked into using a wheelchair at the airport. But that incident is what finally got me to wrap my brain, my pride, and my heart around the idea that I need to use a wheelchair when I fly.
It’s much harder for many people with real hidden disabilities to volunteer to put ourselves in wheelchairs than it appears to be for the cheaters. For us–or at least for me–the symbolism of using a wheelchair anywhere brings up a cacophony of conflicting emotions.
Ironically, one of those things we worry about is being seen as cheating, precisely because we don’t use canes, or have braces on our legs, or look like senior citizens.
Just because you can’t see what’s wrong with me, or anybody else in a wheelchair at the airport, doesn’t mean I’m cheating. You can’t see chronic pain, or cancer, or heart disease, or AIDS, or lupus, or MS, or any other of a hundred conditions. You can’t see a prosthetic foot or leg if it’s covered by pants. Young people can fall prey to serious but hidden disabilities. Just because we look young doesn’t mean we’re cheating.
Finally, let’s all take a look at the statistics presented by the WSJ in another light: the article says that the airlines estimate 15% of wheelchair users at airports are cheaters. That means that 85% of airport wheelchair users ARE LEGIT. That’s a vast majority. That means that of 20 people you see in chairs, 17 of them need that help.
I’m writing a letter to the WSJ regarding this article. I’ll let y’all know if I hear back from them.