Featured Storyteller

CAMEROON: Traveling While Hearing Impaired

ARREY- ECHI
Posted December 7, 2021 from Cameroon
Image shows Arrey Echi in blue and gold, smiling against a white backdrop. (Photo courtesy of Arrey Echi)

Arrey-Echi chronicles how challenging it can be to navigate an airport as a traveler with a disability and outlines her vision for more inclusive travel. 

“We talk a lot about inclusion, but how inclusive are our communities for people with disabilities?

The first time I traveled by air was with my family. All I needed to do was follow them without much ado until we boarded the plane. That made things more manageable and less stressful. In November 2019, I learned just how difficult traveling alone could be for a deaf or hearing impaired person.

On the first leg of my journey to Lagos, Nigeria, for the African Sickle Cell Congress, I had a travel companion who helped me navigate the airport. But from Lagos, I continued to Abuja solo to visit my sister and her family. That’s where the challenges began.

My first obstacle was trying to navigate the check-in. As someone who loves to pause and observe, I scanned around to ensure I got to the correct check-in counter. I saw “Abuja” and made my way to the check-in. After checking my luggage, worry set in.

I scanned the waiting room, seeing no visible sign announcing when we were supposed to board the plane. “How do I hear?” I wondered. I approached a total stranger and asked: “Excuse me, are you flying to Abuja?” The answer was yes. I thanked the stranger, quietly looking for a place to sit down and discreetly following their moves.

After waiting for a while, I noticed people walking towards an exit. The kind stranger also got up, so I did the same. I followed them as long as I could. When they disappeared, I panicked. There was no screen announcing which way the Abuja gate was. 

I took deep breaths, relieved to see a woman in military uniform. “Excuse me, Miss,” I said. ‘Where is this line leading to?” “Abuja,” she replied. With a sigh of relief,  I thanked her and joined the queue. Next, we had to take buses to where we would board the plane. I was worried sick I would enter the wrong bus, as no signs indicated the various destinations.

I told the military lady I’d met earlier that I was hearing impaired. There was nothing she could do, or she couldn't be bothered. I continued asking strangers these questions and hearing, “Yes, this is for Abuja,” until I boarded the plane. Even while on the plane, I had to ask again. “Excuse me, is this plane Abuja bound?” 

I sank into my seat with a thankful sigh and tried to bury my head into the book I was reading. The stress of check-in momentarily dampened the excitement of seeing my sister and her family again. Finally, we landed in Abuja. I was relieved to arrive in the warm embrace of my family. 

Three weeks later, I was on my way back to Cameroon. I hoped the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport would be different from my previous experience as an international airport. Little did I know, I was in for a rude awakening.

My brother-in-law accompanied me, but he could only go so far because nontravelers were not supposed to cross a particular area. Despite telling the officials I was hearing impaired, it was a stressful and confusing experience waiting to board the plane to Yaounde, Nsimalen, Cameroon.

During check-in, no screens were announcing which flights were boarding. I couldn't hear the voice over any of the speakers. Non-stop thoughts raced through my head of what would happen if I missed my flight.

I moved from one airport officer to another, trying to get someone's attention –– someone who really got it and would help me. It was a stressful check-in and an even more stressful waiting period. Once again, I had to revert to asking my, “Are you flying to…” questions. 

The person who bore the brunt of my questions must have wondered what kind of a villager was at the airport flying. But I didn't care what anyone thought. What was paramount was making sure I boarded the right plane. I saw the confused looks on people’s faces after I’d asked them questions for the umpteenth time. 

They asked if I had someone to pick me up at the airport and I told them not to worry. I could easily find my way home once we got to Nsimalen. But being hearing-impaired and unable to hear any announcements or see any information on screens, I just needed some help to make sure I boarded the right plane. “Oh,” they responded before going silent. 

Once they understood why I was asking the questions, they kept me updated when it was time to board. With a grateful smile, I thanked them when we all got onto the plane, notified my brother-in-law through a quick text that I’d boarded, and switched my phone off shortly before take-off.

This experience has made me ask a lot of questions. We talk a lot about inclusion, but how inclusive are our communities for people with disabilities? When I bought my ticket, I told the salesperson they should mention I was hearing impaired. We combed the list of medical conditions you could indicate on the ticket, and there were none in place for someone deaf or hearing impaired. 

After the travel challenges I faced, I couldn't help but think of someone who is both deaf and non-verbal. How do they communicate their needs in the face of such challenges? 

We laud when someone builds a structure and includes a ramp for a wheelchair user. But what about those with invisible disabilities like mine? What actions are taken into consideration to ensure we get the best service with minimal stress and hassle? 

I shared a part of this story on my Facebook page, sparking an interesting conversation with many calling on policymakers to consider my concerns. My travel experiences are not vast, so I don't know how inclusive other countries may be regarding accommodations for people with disabilities. 

Imagine the difference it would make for deaf and hearing-impaired people to see clear signs or visible screens with information on where to board their flight. Imagine how much easier we could travel by including deaf or hearing-impaired people among those needing support or assistance at the airport. I hope that places like airports consider these concerns to create a more inclusive society for all of us. 


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of World Pulse's #DisabilityJustice campaign and Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more

Comments 18

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Jill Langhus
Dec 08, 2021
Dec 08, 2021

Hello, Arrey, Love,

Congrats on yet another Story Award! How many do you have now? Thanks so much for all your hard work, for being such a lovely person and role model, for speaking up for human rights and helping those that need help! Keep it up:-) XX

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 08, 2021
Dec 08, 2021

Dear Sis Jill,
Thank you very much. This makes it a 4th story award. An honour indeed and a humbling one that my experiences continue to shine the light on the challenges and realities of the disabled community.
Thank you, I sure will.

Jill Langhus
Dec 09, 2021
Dec 09, 2021

You're very welcome, Love. Oh, wow! I'm impressed. I've tried a few times, but haven't succeeded yet. Oh well. Yes, dear. I know you will... you rock!! XX

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Keep trying. Some day, your turn will come, hopefully

Jill Langhus
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Thanks, dear:-) Appreciate it.

Hope you're well and that you have a great week!

BrittnGrey
Dec 08, 2021
Dec 08, 2021

Hello Arrey-Echi, thank you for sharing your story with us. By reading your experience, you have activated my heart to advocate further for inclusion and helped open my eyes to additional ways we must create environments to be safe and supportive for individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired.

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 08, 2021
Dec 08, 2021

Hello Britt,
Thank you so much for reading my story. I am glad to know this spurs you on to continue to advocate for inclusion for the deaf and hearing impaired communities. We are grateful for your powerful voice alongside ours.

maeann
Dec 10, 2021
Dec 10, 2021

Hi Arrey, congratulations, amazing story!

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Hi Maeann,
Thank you very much.

Tamarack Verrall
Dec 12, 2021
Dec 12, 2021

Dear Arrey,
I read your story a short while ago and have been meaning to respond. Because you have described the detailed ways in which you had to innovate at the airport, you took me to a deeper place in myself to question what I can do, in public and at home. I had been meaning to learn how to have the automatic transcript appear any time I am on Zoom, and now have it set. A simple thing, but it is through your story that I finally learned how to have it always ready. I have learned so much from you through your stories, and through the good fortune of meeting you here on World Pulse.

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Awwww Mama Tam,
Thank you so.much for always taking the time to read and leave such soulful comments.

I am so glad to hear how you take my experiences to heart and seek for solutions in your own small corner. Thank you so much for this and congratulations for succeeding to have closed captions on zoom.

I am inspired and motivated to keep telling my truth.

Thank you.

An equal pleasure to have crossed paths with you here in WorldPulse.

Wusufor
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Hi Arrey,
Congratulations to you. Let's keep striving, one day it will be well.
Regards

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 13, 2021
Dec 13, 2021

Hello Lizbeth,
Thank you so much.
Yes, one day it shall be well if not by man but certainly by God

Thank you for taking the time to read and drop an encouraging comment.

Love and light.

jomarieb.earth
Dec 14, 2021
Dec 14, 2021

Dearest Arrey,
Unfortunately hope will not change anything. Hope is only the initial spark for change that can easily subside into a quiet tolerance. Humans are simple creatures. They don't like to be inconvenienced, exceptionally considerate nor accommodating. But there must be a movement of the disabled to create a wave of awareness so people's thinking and actions can be reprogrammed/updated. This will never come from anyone else other than the disabled. I hear about these injustices from Europe, the USA, Africa, and Asia. It's worldwide. But, there are enough disabled people worldwide on social media to create a wave and huge outcry. Don't let this frustration dwindle off into the sunset. Let this frustration and experience turn into your courage to connect. Perhaps pick a common app and get busy sister. I'm cheering you on to create a massive community, internationally with a worldwide voice demanding basic, human respect for the disabled. It won't be the first time that humans will make an outcry that will shake things up. I encourage you to be the change that you want to see.
Massive hugs...JoMarie

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 18, 2021
Dec 18, 2021

My Dear JoMarie,
What a heart felt comment!
Thank you so much for not only taking the time to read but also to write this comment that leaves me fired up with thoughts and possibilities of seeing how to take these concerns beyond the initial spark of frustration and hope.

You are right about people with disabilities coming together to raise their collective voices for the changes they want to see happen. The voices are rising already. Still I believe they have to rise even stronger.

I see you sis and I hear you.

Thank you

Warm hugs and love

Elizabeth Francis
Dec 15, 2021
Dec 15, 2021

Congratulations on your story award, I can only imagine the stress, even for us with all senses intact, it can be overwhelming and nerve wrecking at times traversing those international airports.
I'm glad you are using your voice to raise this issue and do hope the relevant authorities would act, with all the technology the world has developed, this should be paid more attention.
Wishing you all the best in your endeavours, keep on shining sister

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 18, 2021
Dec 18, 2021

Dear Elizabeth,
Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave an encouraging comment. It is good to hear you share how traveling can be overwhelming for everyone especially for the hearing impaired.

My wish is that some day, these road blocks are removed and a better inclusive system for all.
Thank you again,

Grace Iliya
Dec 21, 2021
Dec 21, 2021

Dear Arrey,
Congratulations on your story award, i am so glad to read it again.