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LeavingĀ  / 25 September 2014


On the metro, on the first part of my journey back to Narita airport, an elderly Japanese man showed an uncommon interest in my wheelchair; not that he spoke to me or met my eye. His gaze seemed fixated on the lower part of the chair. At Ueno, where I change for the Skyliner, he collared my ramp man and gave him instructions. The ramp man then proceeded to start altering the position of the little stabilising wheels at the back of my chair. 

I was horrified. It took loud squeals of protest to halt this unwelcome activity. I don't mind the fact that my whereabouts are always known and that I need to repeatedly reassure station staff that my way of doing things works for me, but this intrusion was offensive. It reminded me of the time in England when an official corrected my spelling of my own name.

My custom-made wheelchair cushions always have my name on the covers and the covers I was using on that day had a spelling mistake, but it took a while to convince the officious male that the spelling on the cushion was wrong.

I was met at the airport by an English-speaking young man alerted by Skyliner staff, he escorted me through to the wheelchair assistance woman who remembered me from my arrival. I had an hour to wait in the priority waiting zone and while I was there a young woman staff member told me they would need time to load my chair and I should transfer to an airport chair. 
Not wanting to make an extra transfer, not knowing if my cushions would fit and not wanting to loose my powered mobility, I refused. She didn't seem to mind.

On board I was greeted with courtesy by a designated access person and told to let staff know if there was anything they could do to make my journey easier. So I was not expecting things to evolve as they did. 
I had warned the Greeter that I would need my hotwater-bottle filling and refilling, and he had replied 'just say when, any of the crew will be happy to help you'. 
I did and started the journey clutching a warm hotwater-bottle, but 6 hours into the flight the heat was gone; the cabin was cold, my pain levels were rising and I actually felt quite unwell.

Requests for a hotwater-bottle refill were ignored. The staff looking after the section I was in were Japanese, maybe they didn't understand the concept. I have on other flights had to explain how hot water bottles work. I tried something else...
Requests for more blankets were eventually met with one extra blanket passed down the aisle by a rushed crew-member passing on the other side of the plane; I managed to get a third one from another passenger - a young chap who scorned the idea of a blanket on his knees. My capacity to generate heat or regulate body temperature is limited.
My request for hot drinks instead of the served-up cold ones was also ignored as were my complaints about being too cold.

Twelve hours and thirty minutes in a plane is no fun; six of those hours spent shivering and thirsty, with a painful throat, were absolutely miserable. 

Sitting in my allocated seventeen point five
British inches, with my extra legroom, maybe
thirty-three; my legs just supported by my flight bag
due to the added seat-height bestowed by my custom
engineered cushion, I contemplate this less than
terminal space; compare my twenty-two of upper
class generosity spilling into six foot six
of bed room should I be so capable of lying
flat. I compare the restriction on legs somewhat
used to the fact; on arms that suffer their own version 
of claustrophobic despair on encountering
restrictions and begin to calculate the value
of paying eleven times the price for what is clearly
not eleven, not even five times the lessening
of discomfort. What price attitude and service?