May 132013

When Ben Trockman travels, he goes like a rock star with an entourage.  He was lobbying recently in Washington, D.C. for awareness about the difficulty of air travel for individuals using motorized wheelchairs.

The former national Easter Seals Representative is always accompanied by his mother Jill and a nurse.  His father Wayne sometimes travels along. The trip from Trockman’s hometown of  Evansville, Indiana to the halls of Congress takes 12 hours, driving through the foggy hills and hollers of West Virginia in a specially equipped van.

(Full disclosure: I am board chairwoman of Easter Seals Southwestern Indiana.)

“My mom is always there. My dad tags along about 60 percent of the time when he can, depending on the trip or what we are doing,” Trockman explained in an interview.  “We usually bring a nurse along with us to help with the whole ritual of getting up in the morning. Just everyday things take a whole entourage.”

He can’t fly, because the airlines cannot accommodate his motorized wheelchair. The airlines want him to transfer to their small chair which will fit down the airline aisle, and ship his form-fitting chair along with other baggage.  He must also travel with the battery charger for his chair, an extra ventilator in case he has breathing problems, a suction machine if his airway becomes obstructed, and a Hoyer lift (a device that lifts him in and out of bed).

Trockman, 24, could be your brother or your uncle or your son.  Paralyzed during a motorcycle accident in 2006, he sustained a spinal cord injury, and is a C-3 incomplete quadriplegic. He served as the Easter Seals national representative for 2012. Part of his responsibilities in the role involved travel to national meetings and conventions.

After the intense three days out, three days back across the country drive to San Diego for the national Easter Seals meeting, Trockman had an epiphany.  He realized that he could raise awareness about the issue and perhaps empower a change in airline policies that aren’t friendly to a customer in a motorized wheelchair.

“We drove to San Diego and it was a three-day trip, and we stayed two nights,” he said. “We stop infrequently because it is so involved with all the extra supplies I need.”

In a sense, Trockman got mad and then he got going.  As a child, he enjoyed the freedom of traveling with his family. Since his accident, he has been on a cruise,  though the family had to drive to Fort Lauderdale  to board the ship.

Trockman wants airlines to allow patients who use motorized wheelchairs to bring their own chairs on board, as the safety mechanisms to accomodate the chairs.  Safety is a paramount issue, and the larger, motorized chairs need a lock-down mechanism  safe for the customer, those around him, and the plane

“This is not just about me,” he said.  “It’s about millions of Americans who are out there today — who use motorized wheelchairs — that want the opportunity to travel not only the United States but the world. Our world, as individuals with disabilities, is full of barriers, not only physically but in regards to travel.”

He added, “I truly believe that with a change in the airlines that not only could my world expand and my life be unequivocally improved, so many people could benefit.  These barriers can be shattered and a world of opportunities opened for individuals like me.  We deserve an equal opportunity to see the world as anyone, barrier-free.”

Trockman, who is a senior at the University of Southern Indiana, is interested in broadcasting and communications.  He’s a rabid follower of the Boston Red Sox.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by his friends in his hometown just 150 miles from the St. Louis Cardinals.

He is also a new board member at his local Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center where he serves on the marketing committee.

Recently he spoke before the Indiana House and Senate. He was instrumental in getting a resolution passed supporting his efforts.  At this time, he is primarily working on awareness, but his ultimate goal remains change by the airlines.  He will meet with various congresspeople in D.C., and also is promoting an on-line petition.

He is elated about the response to the petition which currently has about 1,250 signatures.  “The petition is important to me so that our legislators can understand that there are many Americans interested in this issue.”

Ultimately, he wants change.  He admits to thinking about this advocacy for change all the time.  “I wake up in the morning thinking about it, and I check the petition on the Internet all day long,”

While he’s currently busy with school and his volunteer work, Trockman wants to see Australia and the Holy Land. “I would love to go to the Middle East and visit Jerusalem.  I truly appreciate the different aspects of cultures and religions.  Before my injury there were no barriers; I saw a lot that I didn’t fully appreciate. Now I’m old enough to appreciate all the things that are out there.  I want to live it and breathe it in.”

While Trockman may not have the pyrotechnics of a rock star, he’s lighting up the world in his own way.

Published May 13, 2013 on The Broad Side. Please comment there.

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