Friday, August 20, 2010

Blind in the Friendly Skies

When two legally blind kids are left alone in an international airport with a train that looks a lot like a ride at Disney World, will they make their flight, or wander around Atlanta International surviving on Cinnabon?

No, no, it's not a story I made up, it's my life.

My younger brother and sister were both born with Peter's Anomaly Plus Syndrome. It's so rare that my brother was one of the first in the world to be diagnosed with it. People with Peter's Anomaly are born blind, without pupils. There are a host of other problems that often go along with it including dwarfism, hearing problems, and speech problems. As babies, my bro and sis's doctors were able to figure out a way to give them pupils, and eyesight; they now have limited vision, though they're legally blind. When their eyesight started getting worse because of the dry Utah weather, their doctors said they had to move to humid Florida.

They've been in Florida for two years now, but because Peter's Anomaly Plus is so rare, the only doctor who can treat them is the doctor who pioneered the sight saving surgeries for them...and he's in Utah. What this means is that two or three times a year, my mostly blind bro and sis have to get on a plane and fly all the way across the country on their own. My family learned a long time ago that having my bro and sis around would be the catalyst for many interesting situations, but we were never, NEVER I tell you, prepared for the adventure that is Delta's round-trip airline flight with connections.

The good people at Delta have a handy feature that allows me, the reservation maker, to note on the ticket that the person flying is visually impaired. Great! I thought, as I clicked the "Visually Impaired" button. Someone will help my bro and sis get to the plane so they don't accidentally wind up in a bathroom stall waiting for the toilet to take off. Unfortunately, the visually impaired check box comes with a have to ride in a wheelchair in order for a Delta representative to help you...something my bro and sis--who are perfectly capable of walking--kind of resent.

When presented with the option of wheelchair or no help at all, they took no help and wandered around the airport like a modern-day Moses, trying to find the way to their gate, which they couldn't see because the gate signs were too small for them to read. After searching forever (okay, it was really only an hour but felt like more to me, their angst ridden sister who was awaiting a text that they were safely on the plane) they found their gate and the nice flight attendants helped them to their seats--apparently wheelchairs aren't required for seat assistance.

One hurdle down, one iceberg-sized hurdle to go...the connection in Atlanta (only one of the biggest airports in the U.S.). Before Delta decided to marry Northwest and adopt a fleet of smaller airline babies, getting my bro and sis on their connection wasn't nearly as difficult because their connecting flight was usually in the same terminal as the flight they just deplaned. No more my friends.

After asking for help finding their connecting flight, they were pointed down a hall and told to take the escalators and turn left, which they did, and it took them to a train. Keep in mind that my bro and sis grew up in Utah. The only trains my bro and sis have experience with were once fueled by coal.

So my bro and sis shrug as they're pushed on the train and then take a moment to wonder if they're on their way to Hogwarts. Bro is a little concerned when he can't find Harry Potter and starts looking around for help when he spots them! No, not Hermione and Harry, it's even better! An airline employee pushing a guy in a wheelchair. Bro grabs my sis, a plan clear in his mind. Obviously that guy wasn't upset about being hauled around in a wheelchair and since he's in a wheelchair, he's probably going to the same place as them! Finding their gate is as simple as following wheelchair guy!

The train stops, flight attendant and wheelchair guy get off, and bro and sis follow like tiny stalkers, though I imagine most stalkers have better sight and can keep a longer distance. By some miracle, wheelchair guy happens to be in the same terminal as bro and sis, and not only the same terminal, but on the same flight!!! That's right, out of all the flights in Atlanta, the guy my bro and sis followed to find their flight was actually on their flight. If that's not evidence of guardian angels, or at least fairies, I'm not sure what is.

Of course, I didn't get this whole story until by some miracle, they managed to land in Salt Lake.

*shakes head*

I can't wait to see what happens next week when they have to fly back. At least my life is never boring.