I have recently been on holiday to Spain and I found it quite interesting how attitudes vary towards sight loss.
I read before we travelled that the airport do a pink lanyard, which shows staff that you, or somebody in your group, may need extra help. I considered this, but I thought I would use my guide cane so they can see that just like they can see a pink lanyard. It said online to look out for any pink areas, as these are help zones for any passengers that have any questions or are struggling to find their way around. So it all sounded really positive.
When we got to the airport however it was a completely different story. When we were in the check in area it was like me and my white cane were invisible. Other passengers were constantly knocking into me and we just checked in as normal. It wasn’t until we got to security that a man actually noticed me and checked we were all ok. He said that we should have all asked for a pink lanyard so that they would know that we needed extra support. I never really thought about it this way before, but if I had got a lanyard then they would have known that I was there and that there is somebody coming through that will need help. So they would actually look. Now that I have seen it that way, next time I will definitely get one. But I still think my cane was pretty obvious. When we went through the body scanner, I really wasn’t sure which way I was going. With all the machinery and people around it was hard to see which way to go. I tried to follow my Dad who went through first, but it was still hard. My cane had to go through the hand luggage scanner which I do understand, but it meant that I couldn’t use it to guide me. I always have a person or my cane guiding me, so I felt quite strange and anxious. I was the only one of us that didn’t beep. So my Mum and Dad were taken to one side to be searched. The man on the scanner made a point of telling the body searching staff that I was with them but I hadn’t beeped. I tried to move nearer to my Mum and Dad to get out of the way and they wouldn’t let me anywhere near them. I was just stood, not really sure which way I was going or not going until they had finished. I was just kind of stood in the way.
After we had finished in security we had the fun job of finding the gate. We looked around for the pink zones that were mentioned. Eventually we found a pink machine that was out of order. Not very useful at all. That was the nearest thing we saw to a pink zone.
Getting onto the plane was amazing! We had to go up the stairs and not an air bridge which I really don’t mind. It’s not the same getting an air bridge. I love going outside and seeing a massive plane. I was so excited. I walked up the stairs at my own pace, trying to concentrate on where I was walking and staring at the plane both at the same time was quite difficult. But I didn’t feel rushed by anybody which was nice. A lady from the cabin crew was stood by the plane door trying her best to help me onto the plane and I accidently headbutted her! Oops! I apologised and she was fine… I hope. But there was an announcement before we took off about their friendly behaviour policy. My Dad was joking saying that they only played that announcement because of me.
When we landed in Alicante, the staff saw me with my cane and let us straight through, while everybody else had to queue around barriers. Straight away we all thought, that is so different to the airport at home. This was one of the few moments where my sight loss came in useful. I smiled as we walked past them all feeling very pleased with myself.
However, while we were actually on holiday, I found a lot of things not very accessible. Hardly anywhere had accessible toilets and the few places that had ramps where very narrow wobbly ones that were just placed over steps. Again, completely different to at home, but in the other way. People just didn’t seem to understand or recognise what my cane was for. I am not sure whether they are actually used in Spain or not, but even other tourists just ignored it. I wasn’t really after any special treatment, just a bit of space to get around. I did have one positive experience though in a wildlife park. We went to see a dolphin show and they let us sit on the front row. It was still hard to see and we got quite wet, but it was very nice for them to let me do this.
We also went on a coach trip to Valencia. The travel rep was very nice and had saved some seats for us near the front of the coach. However when we got to Valencia she was supposed to be taking us to the meeting point for coming back and everybody left us. We couldn’t catch up and lost them very quickly.
We all really enjoyed our holiday, but the support for visually impaired people was very unpredictable.