Disability discrimination comes in many forms, including the backward sort of discrimination which involves assorted community gatekeepers deciding you’re not disabled enough to receive appropriate accommodations. I read this piece about travelers who are more severely mobility impaired than I am who have had to fight with airlines for replacement of their damaged mobility devices and grew quite angry. But it brought to mind what happened on my last airline trip to the 2016 Type-A Parent East Conference in Orlando.

The last time I flew was the first time I acknowledged (got over my denial) that I was impaired enough to request preboarding as a disabled person. (I have Asperger’schronic fatigue syndromepolyarthritis, and some other undiagnosed pain conditions.)

My flight out was perfectly uneventful, but my flight back home had me in tears.

Picture of Christina, a lady with dark hair and sunglasses, with the words NOT DISABLED ENOUGH

The gate agent I was supposed to check in with about preboarding looked at me and my cane and decided that I didn’t get ACTUAL preboarding, I got to board after the preferred customers boarded. I didn’t understand that that’s what she meant by what she wrote on my boarding pass. When I tried to board with everyone in wheelchairs, I was told I would have to wait. I was extraordinarily fatigued at the end of my business trip, and I couldn’t stand. The only seats by the gate were blocked by a rope barrier and a sign, and I had to ask if they could move them so I could sit there. Once I sat down, I had to fight back tears.

A third gate agent came over and asked if I was okay. I explained that I wasn’t allowed to board yet because of what was written on my boarding pass, but I didn’t have the strength to stand and wait for my turn. She had a quick whispered conference with the woman who had stopped me from boarding because of what the first woman had written on my ticket, and I was allowed to board. I was so grateful.

But it all came down to the opinion of a random gate agent who looked at me and decided I didn’t look “disabled enough” to qualify for preboarding, with me too exhausted to advocate for myself.

I wrote to the airline about the incident. I remained civil, but made sure they understood that I was mistreated, and that they need educate their gate agents about disabled travelers with invisible disabilities. They did apologize, but I doubt they did anything about it.

I doubt we’ll see an end to disability discrimination in my lifetime, but maybe, if we keep on talking about it, we can decrease the frequency and severity of its incidents.

Read my Big Fat Medical Update for more details.

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