When a flight turns into a fight: daily deafblind downfalls

Have you ever wondered how a deafblind person goes to the toilet on an aeroplane? Well, you’re about to find out – and you’ll have stitches in your side when you’re done reading this blog post.

How much of me on the toilet seat did they see? I’ll never know.

Admittedly, the story is best told in sign language where there’s lots of facial expression which makes it even more hilarious – so stay tuned for the Auslan version of this story.

Here is a tale you won’t be forgetting in a hurry…

It was the 20th of April 2018 and I was on a flight from Melbourne to Perth with my interpreter Linda. We’d just spent two days having our brain cells picked apart at the Deafblind Australia Strategic Planning meeting. Well okay, Linda was interpreting, so her brain cells remained intact. Mine? Not so much.

I had never been more excited to get home because Harry Styles was in my city, waiting for me to come and watch his concert the following night. I was as giddy as a thirteen-year-old and Linda couldn’t calm my enthusiasm.

We were some way into the flight when, inevitably, I had to pee. The plane lights were dim; not completely dark but still probably not as bright as they should be for my 20% vision to function as I need it to.

I turned to Linda and casually asked whether she thought it would be safe for me to go to the bathroom by myself – meaning without a guide. She shrugged and said I had nothing to lose. Boy was she wrong – but we’ll get to that in a moment.

I asked her how many seats back the toilet was, and she replied “nine”.

So up I got, thinking “what’s the worst that can happen?”.

I began slowly walking down the aisle of the cabin, putting my hands on the back of each seat, as much for stability as to count the rows. I was about halfway to my destination, when my right hand accidentally went flat against someone’s face instead of their seat. If you have ever reached out into darkness, you may know that smacking a face feels very different to a chair.

It happened so fast that I had no idea what their reaction was and if they were even awake. But I was so embarrassed, I quickly moved on without saying anything.

This was just the beginning of what was going to be a very embarrassing experience.

After my initial OMG, WTF, CRAP moment, I resumed the walk of shame down the too-tiny plane aisle.

I arrived at the toilet. Upon entering the cramped cubicle, I tried to lock the door. Now, this wasn’t your typical lock and I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. But my bladder was screaming at me, and so at the risk of wetting myself I decided I would simply hold the door shut with my arm while I peed.

Crisis averted; this proved to be manageable.

Until I realised I needed both hands to get the toilet paper. I hadn’t foreseen this problem, so I was at a loss. And of course, what if someone tried opening the door while I let go for a few seconds? There weren’t a whole heap of options so I just held my breath and hoped for the best.

But the best was not to be. The second I released the door, it abruptly swung open. I immediately let go of the toilet paper in my hands and slammed it shut – but the question still to this day remains. How much of me on the toilet seat did they see? I’ll never know.

After finally finishing my business and attempting to wash my hands with several interruptions from door-openers, I burst out of the bathroom to find a group of flight attendants waiting. I was confused; why were they all crowded there? What did they want?

Was this because I slapped someone in the face on my way to the toilet or perhaps because I slammed a door in another persons face just moments ago?

I couldn’t communicate with them, but figured they needed some reassurance that I wasn’t crazy, so I used my voice to tell them I was fine but couldn’t work out the lock, that was all.

The plane was now completely dark, and I needed a guide back to my seat. I took one of the women’s hands who was nearest to me and she proceeded to hold my hand from behind while we walked.

They say good things happen in threes? Well there were some passengers in front of me taking luggage from the overhead compartments but I couldn’t see and this woman being my guide was walking behind me instead of in front so… I just kinda walked into the person getting their luggage. Oh well.

Eventually, I got back to Linda and explained the whole ordeal to her. At which she laughed endlessly!

I found out later that an acquaintance of mine who had been in the seat just next to the toilet had been woken up by the incessant knocking on the toilet door. I had to ask myself, where was the logic? I am deaf.

All in all, it is never a dull moment when you walk in my footsteps.

In hindsight, it’s less mortifying than it is amusing – but it was also a valuable lesson to learn from for me, and sharing this story is a great way to raise some awareness about the challenges a person with vision and hearing loss faces in daily life.