Meg Casey
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"Most Able Disabled"

Meg Casey's handicapped issues column

Meg Casey at Disneyland
Meg Casey at Disneyland in 1981
photo courtesy of the Casey family

Handicapped Globe Trotting

Disabled Transportation

March 23 1983

Dear Meg,

How can I get transportation so that I can get out of the house and function like any other human being? People in wheelchairs who cannot get out of the house can get very lonely.

Dear Housebound Citizen:

You have hit upon what may well prove to be a very hot issue. The topic of transportation for the "disabled" public has been coming to a slow boil while sitting on the back burner in Milford, and as always when heat is applied sooner or later something is going to burn - even stew.

All transit systems must comply with the guidelines of equal access for disabled citizens on all pieces of equipment purchased. (which means all of the new buses the Milford Transit District ordered.) Unless they provide an alternative means of transportation running a comparatively rated system of service for lift dependent riders that is lift equipped.

Milford Transit managed to fit itself into that latter category by claiming a specially equipped van had been procured for this purpose. Through a grant the city of Milford had gotten a new lift van from the New Haven Transit District.

The new van was named the Sunshine Care–A–Van Express and it has been in operation for some time. However, many disabled people in town like yourself, are unaware that this is their vehicle to use. Physically disabled people of any age requiring lift equipment to be transported have the right to use it. The base of operations is at the Senior Citizen Center, but is not intended to be mistaken as being a service strictly for the elderly disabled.

There is a 24 hour advance reservation required and the system works with medical priority over social trips. There's a limit to only two social trips per person per month. If assistance is needed in getting to and from buildings a helper may ride along free of charge. The fees are strictly donations, not mandatory. The area covered in the service extends from Bridgeport to New Haven.

To enable accurate records to be kept as to the frequency and type of an type of trips being denied, the Milford Transit Department requests you call their office as soon as there is a problem obtain a ride. Compilation of this information will give "proof of need" for additional service. Well if proof is required, let's give it to them. But we can't help unless we know.

Handicapped Travel

February 9 & 23 1983

Dear Meg,

What are some of the problems you encounter while traveling?

Are you asking this of me personally or do you use for your we "you" to mean "ya'll disabled people of the world?" Hands down it is all a form of inaccessibility.

To answer for myself, the frustrations that I would, do and have endured while globe trotting are pretty much the same ones that are encountered time and time again in my own backyard. No matter where I go I will constantly find something's too big, too high or too heavy. (and or any combination of the three!)

Alas the plight of a little person only out to raise little bit o' hell while on this planet of giants. Luckily for me I have always taken comfort in the motto "If at first you don't succeed, storm the Bastille!"

On a more serious note, due to a couple of hard unchangeable facts resulting from the condition which I have, I will never be able to live completely independent for not only do I need the calvary to remove temporary obstacles from my path, I even have to hassle with someone else to put the damn socks on my feet every day because partially stiffened leg joints have always denied me the simple pleasure of shaking hands with my toes.

Therefore the only solo journeying I do is strictly "in transit." I am always put on board, have arranged this to be assisted when need to be en route, and have to arrange to be met by someone at the gate or platform on arrival.

I have a dear friend with whom would love like to travel but still couldn't without a third party because he is also disabled. His disability confines him to a wheelchair for the most part but a more well seasoned person would be hard-to-find. That chair of his has seen more foreign lands then I have!

This friend has never, in all his years of "going," experienced an unpleasant episode the likes of a horror story he has give me permission to share with you.

Recently he had gone down to Florida for a sneak preview of the new Epcot Center at Disney World. He planned a trip for some time and looked forward to it with great excitement.

He flew. The airline he used will remain nameless for the time being.

Firstly it is standard procedure for an airline to request that a disabled individual transfer out of his or her wheelchair into a courtesy chair in order to enable them to stow his or her chair safely in the baggage compartment of the plane.

These courtesy wheelchairs usually have some gizmo extending high enough into the air so they can't be taken off the plane. Sometimes it is the luggage rack as was in this case.

A special chair called a "skinny" is normally kept and used on a plane for assisting disabled or ill people to from their seat on board.

The wheels of these skinny chairs are underneath the seat rather than on the side so as to maneuver the narrow aisles easily with them.

I said "normally kept on board" but such was not the case here even though my friend had made special reservations well in advance alerting them to the facts of his disability.

Despite his attempts at good planning, no means (or persons) were available for assisting him on board the craft and this very "proud" young man was forced to half drag, half crawl his way to his seat which was halfway towards the back of the plane, if he wanted to continue the trip.

Fortunately the idiots did adhere to the standard practice whereby the disabled passengers are the first to board the plane and last to disembark so that he was spared the further indignity of a planeload of gawking witnesses instead of an audience of the crew and bunch of empty seats.

Can you imagine yourself going through that fiasco? Thank God for some small favors though, because what the good Lord may have held back on my friend, he didn't skip when he gave them at an active mouth. You can be sure that they had anything he wanted when that aircraft touched down in the land of sunshine!

I would be remiss if I didn't bring up what is probably the single most common difficulty which the disabled traveler comes up against. There are many different interpretations of just what the term "accessible" means when applied to the building codes and just how well the reconstruction must be done before the owner of an establishment has the right to advertise as being such.

It is so very disheartening to drag your weary bones into your hotel room only to find that you can't have that long hot soak in the tub because the bathroom can't accommodate your wheelchair after all. In this case "accessible" meant that cement ramp outside with the "Suicide Six Inch" pitch to it!

More has to be done to tighten up the laxity found all over the country where builders are allowed to slide by strictly due to lack of serious and constant code enforcement by the officials. (Fining the official would certainly change the tide.)

On a more positive note many new dreams are being realized for us.

Greyhound now offers a deal whereby the companion of a disabled traveler needing assistance travels free of charge. Ensuring the disabled the ability of going places without doubling expenses!

Rental car companies are able to offer the service of providing a suitably adapted car to be waiting for the disabled traveler on arrival if given advance notice and the specific modifications information needed.

Many new travel packet. tours and guidebooks all geared toward accessible enjoyment are available everyday. Any reputable travel agent would be more than happy to help you find the way to do it all. (And I highly recommend you do it all!)

Bon Voyage.

Accessibility On The Road

October 3 1984

Dear Meg,

Mention is often made of your own love for traveling. Everyone should have a have the opportunity to feel this way through a first hand account of such wonders to behold because it certainly helps to keep one's own self importance in perspective when seen up against all else that time has not survived.

My own disability it's not a hinderance by the standard inaccessibility barriers found in architecture of pre-awareness eras, as many other individuals must traverse while sight seeing. However, I have found that difficulty in communication in different corners of the world to be an even bigger handicap in addition to the one already with me through life. Foreign languages, different dialects and different customs are sometimes unexpected obstacles for any traveler. Even in parts of the U.S. a person can find him or herself at a loss because of an inability to comprehend a heavy Southern drawl or the street talk "Jive" found in New York City, two extreme examples.

How do you handle these situations when on the road?

Thank you for your time

Mrs. RC Milford

Hello Mrs. R.C.

Well, You definitely have hit upon a universal handicap for travelers at that! Obviously we've all run across at least one similar situation as the one described by you. Anyone who hasn't yet and is committed to the traveling bug at all will experience a taste of feeling like "the ignorant tourist" sooner or later!

How do I handle it? Awkwardly … I sweat profusely, my lips quiver, my eyes fill up with tears, and usually "I want my mother!" You know, please!

The best defense against such embarrassing or humiliating incidents is to try to be well prepared for your trip by studying up on its history and customs, geography and languages spoken by the natives. Also know the exact location of the American Embassy in case of emergency.

Carry a little translation dictionary around with you so that you can look up any phrases needed to get you through your days of sightseeing. like which way is the restroom.

Actually be careful about what you politely call the place where working toilet facilities are kept because even in England no one knows where I wanted to go when I asked directions using wording like "Ladies Room, Restrooms, etc. Finally, someone must have noticed my crossed eyes and said "Oh she wants the Loo!"

Having a friend familiar with the territory as host and tour guide is the most perfect way to beat the problem but you have to travel to places once in order to make close kind of friends originally!

Have a great trip!

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photographs and other content courtesy of the Casey family unless noted
blog posts and art by Meg Casey
originally published 1982 to 1985 in the Milford Citizen newspaper