A little while ago, I wrote about a blind activist in the Boston area who got bent out of shape because he wasn’t allowed to tour the USS John F. Kennedy when she made a call to Beantown. the navy, attempting to head off a potential PR disaster, offered him a private tour when the ship wasn’t being mobbed (3,500 visitors an hour), but he stood his ground: he wanted to be treated just like everyone else.
Well, Big John has moved on, but a Navy destroyer — the USS Donald Cook — was in Beantown yesterday, and Mr. Pyyhkala went for another tour. This time, it was granted.
Because this time the ship wasn’t mobbed, and Mr. Pyyhkala (along with three other blind visitors) were shepherded around the much smaller (and newer) ship by one of her officers.
Here’s a few harsh realities:
Active-duty warships are not handicapped-accessible. They are under no legal obligation to be so, and should not be — for one, wheelchair-friendliness and watertight compartmentalization are fundamentally incompatible. (That’s why ship’s doors — I’m sorry, “hatches” — usually have a very high threshold.)
Tours of Navy ships are a courtesy, not a right — and a burden on the crew, who most often just want to get off the ship for a little while. Conducting tours requires the crew sacrifice their precious free time to accomodate people who, at best, are ignorant, and at worst, demanding and a nuisance.
A modern warship is absolutely no place for a blind person. Every year Naval personnel, who live on these ships for months at a time, are injured or even killed just moving around the ship. They are designed for functionality, survivability, and efficiency. Routine safety concerns and convenience are way, way, way down the list of ship designers’ priorities.
With the case of the Cook, her crew was considerably less overwhelmed by visitors, and a Lieutenant could be spared to shepherd these four visitors around with minimal risk. But Lt. Paul Brawley, most likely, gave up a free afternoon to extend to them the United States Navy’s courtesy.
I hope this is the last we’ll hear about this particular crusade. But I fear it won’t.