At home in Rhode Island, my life is pretty planned out, like most people disabled or not. I have my routine and my own equipment to get around. When I travel, the situation becomes more complicated. Whatever the mode of transportation, I like to take along a fold-up portable wheelchair model. But lightweight as it is, someone other than me has to tote it. I rely on porters, airline personnel, etc. They are happy to help so it is seldom an issue. But this is not always the case.

One trip I took by air not long ago bordered on the impossible. I was told by the airline that I would have to rent a regulation size wheel chair in order to board and deplane according to their rules. No exception. I could stow my portable version in the cargo area, so it wasn’t going to do me much good. I dutifully agreed to the rental since I did not own the type mandated. But it was more than the extra expense that had me annoyed. You won’t believe the rest of the story.

The last wheelchair available that particular day had a unique problem. It looked and felt fine, but did it ever reek of cigarette smoke. It had been absorbed right into the fabric of the seat and back. I was taken aback. I suppose airing out this type of equipment to ensure there was No More Smoke Smell was not on the airline’s list of daily chores. I was on my own. A considerate fellow passenger suggested some air freshener and ran off to find some in the airport convenience store. Meanwhile, I was waiting patiently sitting in this horror of a smelly chair. Soon enough, my clothes started to smell, too. I couldn’t change until I arrived at my destination, and I loathed the idea of checking into a hotel with an obvious odor.

The helpful Good Samaritan returned and sprayed the area as best he could. I asked for a spritz or two on my pants. That was the extent of what we could do to remedy the ridiculous situation. It was an annoying unforeseen experience and an unpleasant trip.

Besides cigarette smoke (and who thinks of reserving a non-smoking wheelchair?), make sure the equipment available has been inspected. All attachments must be secure and the wheels and parts well oiled so that the movable foot rests, for example, can do their job. No disabled person wants to fear their chair breaking down, especially in a public place. You also have to get the right size for your body. It has to be in good working condition. Don’t assume anything, even with a reputable airline.