When I was 14 years old, I broke my fibula in my leg, the smaller bone running parallel with the tibia. This happened while playing football in Troy, Ohio, 20 miles south of Dayton. It also just so happened that my father got a job offer in Palikir, Pohnpei, so we had to move weeks after I broke my leg. I had to travel with my leg in a 20-lb cast that ran above my knee.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a disability is “A physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity.” Major life activities are things like, but not limited to, breathing, eating, sleeping, speaking, hearing, seeing and walking. The ADA is the biggest piece of legislation protecting people with disabilities from being discriminated against because of a disability in America. It was signed into law by George Bush Sr. on July 26, 1990, on the White House lawn.
While having this temporary disability, I had to fly from Columbus Ohio, to Pohnpei Island with my family of six. It was an ordeal to say the least. The hassle of using crutches in those tight planes made my claustrophobia worse and I almost lost my cool. I struggled up and down the skinny aisle to get to and from the bathroom, hit a couple of folks accidentally with my crutches, and even got stuck in the bathroom because it was so tight and I had to use my walking aids. Complications increased when we disembarked, and changed planes, and then took off again. Unfortunately, there is no direct flight from Columbus to Pohnpei.
About 30 hours later, and after countless plane transits and waiting around, this nightmare ended when we finally landed in beautiful Pohnpei. It was just not the best experience, and I would not want that for anyone else.
I will say, however, that the stewardesses and airline personnel made my trip a lot more bearable as they frequently checked up on me and gave me extra snacks, and or drinks whenever I wanted. They smiled a lot and seemed genuinely concerned about my broken leg. Many of them would ask, and I would proudly say “football.” When we got to Texas, and I waited for others to disembark first, I remember one tiny female airline personnel about a hundred pounds exerting great effort as she strained to push me up a steep jetway that seemed to go on and on. At the top of the jetway she almost passed out, and with what seemed to be her last breath, she squeezed out: “I sure got my exercise, didn’t I.”
Today, looking back, I wish I could meet them all again, and thank each and every one of them for the wonderful service, which was above and beyond their call of duty. They have to deal with a lot, and I was a handful.
On a final note, the ADA does not cover air carriers today; the Air Carrier Access Act, also a federal legislation, covers air carriers. See more online at… http://www.disabilitytravel.com/airlines/air_carrier_act.htm. For more on disabilities and or the ADA, please call NMPASI at 235-7273/4; fax at 235-7275; TTY at 235-7278; or online at www.nmpasi.org.
Thomas M. Thornburgh is program manager at the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc.