When Assertiveness and Confidence Made All the Difference
I arrived at the LAX airport at approximately 11:15 p.m. and was scheduled to depart on the 12:40 a.m. flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. I booked this flight only a few hours prior to arriving at the airport in view of the fact that my mother’s vital signs indicated that she was in critical condition, and I was making every attempt to get to the Alston Brook Nursing Home in Lexington, North Carolina to be at her side.
Upon arriving at terminal seven at the airport, one of the American Airlines agents approached me and stated, “Due to the major construction at the airport, all flights are departing from terminal four.”
I asked her what was the fastest way to get to terminal four. She stated that a bus for disabled persons would come soon, and I should sit and wait. After sitting for fifteen minutes, which seemed like hours, I told her that I would walk to terminal four. “But you are blind, and you can’t,” she said.
I found the exit door by using my long white cane, and I started walking toward terminal four carrying a heavy roller bag and an oversized handbag. A bus for the disabled came along and I got on, but the driver drove past terminal four without alerting me. Therefore, when I got off the bus, I had to walk back in the opposite direction, still with my heavy bags and time that was passing, lessening the chances I would make my flight.
When I got inside terminal four, I yelled for help. It seemed as if no one was around. Finally, an airline agent approached me and asked if she could help. I asked for directions to security. She told me to have a seat and she would get someone to assist me. Feeling desperate, I explained why it was so important for me to get on the 12:40 a.m. flight. I then asked her to direct me to the quickest way to security.
“The steps are here, but you are blind.” I ran up the steps and was prepared to go through the security process when she held onto my back, which set off the metal detector. I asked her not to touch me, and she said she was afraid that I might fall. I was really losing my patience at this point. “You watched me run up the steps, and now you think it is necessary to keep me from falling on a flat surface?”
After going through the metal detector, I asked the officer to direct me to my gate. Then I heard my name being called over the paging system. By this point I was very anxious and desperate, so I began to run as fast as I could. Finally, I got a break; an agent at the gate saw me and yelled, “Stop, I see you, and I will not close the door.”
I sat on the plane realizing that, if I had not used my skills, I would have missed my flight. I thought about how often, in the kindest tones and probably with the best of motives, we are asked to sit and wait for someone to help us.
Dr. Marc Maurer, immediate past president of the National Federation of the Blind, stated in one of his iconic speeches that we are tired of being told to sit down and wait, that we spend too many hours waiting, and that we intend to take control of our own lives.
It isn’t always easy to disobey an order, especially one that is in all likelihood made with the best of intentions, but sometimes it is necessary to be assertive, confrontive, and to do what needs to be done. Very often we feel the need to be unassailably kind and courteous, thinking of ourselves as ambassadors of goodwill and the educators of sighted people. But there are times when one has to prioritize, and for me the priority was getting to my mother’s bedside.
This phenomenal trip had an extraordinary ending because I arrived at the Alston Brook Nursing Home shortly before my mother expired. What a difference it made knowing that I was independent enough to travel on my own. What a difference it made knowing that I could refuse help when it wasn’t needed and direct those to give me the help I really did need.
To the people who encountered me in the airport that day, patiently waiting and meekly obeying their requests might have made me a more pleasant passenger in their eyes, but my more important mission was to say goodbye to my mother. I thank God for the tough-minded independence I have learned throughout my life and which has been supported by my brothers and sisters in the National Federation of the Blind.