Episode 17 Transcript

Published: Thursday October 12, 2023

Flight for Equality: Disabled Travelers Unite

Overcoming challenges in the skies together


Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.

Open hearts. Clear paths. Let’s go.

Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I’m Alycia Anderson. We are talking about travel, the travel industry, accessibility, how it is to travel to disabled person.

This has been a hot topic this year in the news over and over. Whether it’s damage to a wheelchair or inaccessibility to getting on a plane or so many other things. And this week there was this story that was all over the news, it went viral on TikTok. The story was titled “Disabled Beyoncé Fan Misses Show After Airline Can’t Fit His Wheelchair on the Plane, Ableism Strikes Again.” Dun Dun Dun.

Ableism strikes a lot in the travel industry we find as well. So we thought we would share a little perspective on that. Today I’ve invited Marty on my husband and business partner. He’s my road warrior, my travel companion. We travel from every corner of the state doing our thing, working the stages, making some impact.

So I thought we could share this conversation today because we’ve seen so much of this in our lives, the challenges and the beauties.

Marty Anderson: Wow. Yeah, there is so much ableism in the travel industry. It’s everywhere you turn, really. And it starts with the… all the challenges of the extra work that the people go through to load us on the plane and all the things that it requires for us to get through to that process, but it really has so many layers.

I mean just you and I, when we travel together, I can stand up and kind of hop around and sometimes that throws people off and they think am I really disabled? Am I walking around or do I need my wheelchair?

So there’s that skepticism layer, and I’m sure that many other disabilities face that type of scrutiny and the burden, the extra work it often leads to a lack of caring. I think that when it comes to us sometimes and it’s a mixed bag.

Sometimes we have some really cool people that are involved trying to get us on the planes and get us through the process. And then there’s other times that it’s definitely not that for us.

We’ve traveled on many different carriers and we’ve noticed that there’s not a standardized process. So when it comes to inspecting the chairs. Getting the tags set up for the chairs, getting us through to the gate. Every step of the way can be a little different at each carrier, right?

Alycia Anderson: I mean, I think travel is tough. Travel for me is always a negotiation. It’s having to give up something to gain it, and typically it’s a piece of my independence.

So if we’re talking about airline travel specifically. You know, being asked to have your wheelchair taken away and put under with the bags. Be rolled onto a plane by another human being, usually a stranger, on a on a chair. Being on a plane that doesn’t have accessible bathrooms, there’s a lot of things that we have to be willing to give up to gain the privilege of traveling.

And, I think it’s pretty powerful that finally in our society we’re starting to see stories that are bringing the light on some of the challenges that have been historically, there.

There’s a ton of barriers. I think we should talk about what some of those are, but the biggest barriers, in my opinion, is that the travel industry, and specifically airline travel, was not built with the disabled consumers perspective in mind.

So all of the infrastructure, whether it’s planes or TSA or shuttles, being inaccessible, whatever it might be to get us from point A to point B was not necessarily built with accessibility in mind. And so you feel like… Like you’re saying, we’re this constant afterthought.

How are we gonna get them on the plane? Oh, you’re gonna ask me to go to the bathroom. How are you going to do that? Can you walk?

You know, there’s just these challenges continually to find some resemblance of dignity, I guess, and it’s a great accomplishment of achieving travel from our perspective. And like you said, it’s hard and it feels like there’s some lack of decency at times from our perspective because we’re putting a pretty vulnerable position.

Give up your independence. Give me your wheelchair and be reliant on a stranger and hope that… that stranger is trained in the right way to help you go to the bathroom if you need to do the most personal things that you can think of as a human being.

Marty Anderson: We talk about ableism, but again it’s the belief or the preference or the accommodating those with typical abilities over those without typical abilities or disabilities.

So as you’re saying Alycia like… we have been an afterthought, we’re kind of like a fix at the end of the production line, and it’s we’ve never been a part of it.

And so that’s where it leads to these cases where you hear about disability advocates starting to speak up as we are in all different realms of of society, but specifically here in the travel industry, because travel is so important to our lives nowadays as we are running our business, we have to travel from city to city.

It’s something to go from our homes that we work so hard for, and uh, our cars and all the independence and everything that we’ve built up and to show up at the at the airport and the second that we get out of our car we start noticing that things are different. That we get funny stares. That shuttle drivers will wave then pass by, or they’ll stop and they’ll say, hey, we… you gotta wait for the next one or we don’t have room for you on this one.

Or it’s hold on, we’re going to move every single body on this shuttle and everybody knows you’re coming on. And then… there’s processes in place that are somewhat inhumane and that they want to strap you down, and it’s a 4 to 5 point system that is complete overkill in many instances, but we can’t speak for all disabilities. But for us especially, it’s… we try to break those barriers down every chance we get.

Let’s talk about what are the specific things that you think is bringing this ableism into the travel?

Alycia Anderson: I mean, I think it’s societal perception on disability being a them problem and not an us problem. And the reality is disability… We say it all the time on the show it’s our common ground. It’s not the thing that separates us. It’s one-in-four of us.

We were looking up statistics that in 2019, 27 million people with disabilities traveled by air. In 2022, $58 billion were spent by the disabled consumer traveling. This is a huge percentage of our society that is being ignored.

And accommodations we’re paying the same amount of money, if not more and to go through so many more hurdles, leaps and hurdles. And overcoming so many more boundaries and blockers to do the same thing as somebody that is able bodied, and we’re talking about basic human rights like being able to go to the bathroom on a plane or being able to order a rideshare.

And them not passing you by and leaving you stranded. Arriving at your destination on the plane and they bring your wheelchair up to you and it’s missing the front wheel.

Marty Anderson: Broken. Yeah.

Alycia Anderson: Completely broken. Looking at equipment like it’s a piece of luggage. Any of us can travel anywhere on a vacation, and if your luggage is lost for a week that entire week, you can go buy new clothes and you can move on.

That story of the wheel missing. That was my vacation. A girls weekend where I had to pop a wheelie for three days because the front wheel of my wheelchair was missing, that keeps me balanced and this is a big, big problem.

From a consumer standpoint, it’s discrimination.

Marty Anderson: Yeah. You know, I don’t think… and I believe you think the same thing, that airline industries are not intentionally trying to be bad or mistreat people with disabilities.

I think that because of the ableism of the system in preferring that typical ability over any other abilities and the lack of foresight in all the development and planning and processing and creating the planes and the structure that’s in place for loading us on and off and all the things that we go through.

It’s just due to the unfamiliarity of these businesses and organizations and airports and everybody else… with disability. Although they’re getting better all the time, and they’re learning about it 100%.

I think that that’s kind of where those stigmas and biases kind of have folded into the process, unfortunately.

Alycia Anderson: It’s a lack of… it’s a lack of infrastructure, and because there’s so many different people working in so many different departments that have to face the challenges of finding a way to fit us into a system that is completely inaccessible.

Marty Anderson: And they’re facing the time deadlines and trying to maximize the dollars that they’re bringing in the door for their companies. And in all of this we just talked about on our last trip…

Alycia Anderson: You’re Listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia.


Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward. I’m Alycia. We are talking about travel, the travel industry, accessibility. I’ve invited Marty on, my husband and business partner.

Yeah. So we just were at an event, a conference, I was a keynote at a conference, and we were asked to give our Disabling Ableism keynote to the Society of Collegiate Travel and Expense Management.

This was a massive opportunity and when I had my first meeting with them and we were talking about some of my experiences in travel…, this was a pitch meeting, but I actually got emotional on… when I was explaining to them the nuances and the things that we have to face that put us in a in a situation of being very vulnerable, and…

So it was my honor, it was our honor… to have some presence at this conference to make an impact. And there was 200 or 300 different universities there who handle all of the expense travel for their university. And then, you know, their vendor partners, where every travel company that you could think of, every airline, every hotel, rideshare all of that.

And we had this opportunity to give this keynote and talk about our experiences in travel and there was literally people gasping in the audience when they were hearing some of the stories.

And when we got done with our keynote, we were approached by company after company after company after company wanting to talk about it more. And what was surprising to me is a lot of the content that we were giving them felt like it was new to them.

And so I think one of the biggest barriers is we need to be talking about this topic more. We need to be educating organizations and companies on the benefits of accessibility, the benefits of and return on investment of including a huge massive part of our society, the disabled community. That $60 billion that’s coming through the door and how we start to do better and bringing some humanity to this process and bringing accessibility into the travel industry.

Marty Anderson: They said that they don’t get standing ovations very often but you got one, and it was fun to speak with a lot of the of the different people afterwards, representing all these organizations, colleges and all the people that are doing the travel and everything.

And everyone agreed, we’re at a very exciting time in the travel industry. You know, there’s a lot of innovation going on and there’s a lot of things happening and it’s almost at a point where we’re trying to recreate.

And so for us to be able to deliver the message that accessibility, baking it in as a philosophy and not an afterthought leads to innovation and leads to creativity, leads to so many new solutions and all these things was exciting.

And so travel is just so important, but… you know, we like to talk about pushing forward and we like to talk about what’s next. We like to talk about where can we go from here and how do we get there. So what do you think an ideal situation would look like.

Alycia Anderson: We’d like to see more accessibility. We’d like to see product services, infrastructure technologies the travel industry builds to take all abilities in mind, so whoever the consumer is receiving an equitable experience and we’re starting to see some of those things happen in newer legislation that’s been released.

This year, the US Department of Transportation put out legislation that’s going to require airline laboratories to be more accessible for wheelchair users within the next 10 years, which is a long time away, and we’ll see how that all goes. But that’s hopeful.

And when Pete Buttigieg was discussing this legislation. I can quote him saying, “We are proud to announce this rule will make airline restrooms larger and more accessible, ensuring travelers with wheelchairs are afforded the same…” keyword, same… “access,”… another keyword… “and dignity”… major keyword!

Receiving dignity as consumers of travel in public. This is so important. We all deserve to have dignity. Whether we are traveling or we are at work or we are making our way in society and it starts with giving access of independence and that comes through accessibility in every way, shape and form of it.

So this is a super important topic, and I think we’re going to keep seeing so much more on it as the years go by, and I’m hopeful that… and excited that… we’re starting to see some of these very important conversations and advocacy come out of so many movements in front of our eyes today.

Marty Anderson: Yeah, along with that exciting news about having restrooms that will be accessible, we’ve seen stories in the newspapers and airline carriers starting to develop seats where you can roll your wheelchair right onto the plane and sit in your wheelchair throughout the flight.

For me, I’d love to see it be even a more seamless process that… everybody is doing the same thing.

That we don’t need to be isolated into a pre-boarding or this type of situation. Where it creates that “us versus them” mentality, but rather allow for us to just board the plane at the same time as everyone else.

But, that would require that the aisles would be wide enough for us to make it all the way down the plane. Then… that each seat would be accessible in the fact that we could just push our chair to it and hop right over or transfer in there. Or if we chose to sit in our wheelchair, have the seat go up and we just cruise right in. All of those types of things would be amazing.

When you think about the TSA experience and how we often have to wait to be brought through and patted down in a very strange manner. It would be great if they had those machines that were wide enough or accommodated a wheelchair to just…

Alycia Anderson: Strange and invasive.

Marty Anderson: Go in there and let’s put our hands in the air like everybody else.

And why not? There’s so many opportunities for innovation, for accessibility especially. In the travel industry.

Alycia Anderson: I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more to come. So this is exciting and we need to just keep using our voices and get in front of more of these travel companies cause… that we definitely saw the impact this last week and that was very exciting.

I am so grateful that our business… this is giving us these personal experiences to see what is working, where we could do better, and the reality is travel brings so much joy to all of our lives and we all deserve it.

And I’m so happy that you and I have this experience to go create some opportunities for organizations.

And in that we get to do some traveling around some. Are you? As we wrap this up, what’s the Pushing Forward moment?

Marty Anderson: Well, I think the pushing forward moment here in the travel is, do the best you can with the smile. And, even though things may not go the way that you like it sometimes, you really need to have compassion for one another out there.

You need to be able to just do what you have to… to get through the day, and it’s best to do it with a smile, not be grumpy.

And, it’s OK to ask for accommodations. It’s OK to ask questions as to why.

People need to be able to give honest answers and have the ability to have those discussions to continue this movement and accessibility thing in transportation.

Well, Alycia, I’d like to turn it around on you this time and see what you have to say.

Alycia Anderson: I think the Pushing Forward moment when it comes to air travel is that we need to start looking through a wider lens.

We need to start seeing people of all abilities, and to understand that, to do any better we have to be willing to put in a lot of hard work to.

But we’re also going to realize and see that there’s a lot of hard work that we need to do, but how much easier it can be done when we do it together.

Marty Anderson: I like it.

Alycia Anderson: Thank you so much to all of our listeners, and are pushing forward community that is out there.

We see you every single week showing up for us.

Please share this podcast within your own communities and within your own circles so we can continue to grow.

We are in what… 22 countries!

And Marty, thanks for being the best road warrior that a girl could ask for. I love you.

Marty Anderson: I love you too.

Alycia Anderson: Alright, until next time this is Pushing Forward with Alycia and that is how we roll.