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Introduction of Our Premier Alumni Piece by Gary Shrieves, CSB Orientation & Mobility Specialist October, 2005

Welcome to the exciting new alumni page of the CSB website, and it is indeed an honor to introduce our very first piece, which was submitted by Homero Vazquez (Class of 2002). I had the pleasure of working with Homero in Orientation & Mobility during most of his enrollment at CSB, and witnessing the gradual development of his skills and self-confidence.

After graduation, his journey continued at the Living Skills Center in San Pablo. He is currently making the trek between home and community college by paratransit and public bus, educating others on disability awareness issues, and (as you will be reading) becoming a greater advocate for his rights.

Homero is on an upward trajectory in more ways than one, and the sky is literally the limit! Our thanks to him for submitting our premiere piece, and for helping to make this new page of our website a reality. We hope to hear from many other alumni as well.

Flyin' Blind At Mexicana by Homero Vazquez

While my summer vacation from Sacramento was intended to be another pleasant adventure visiting family and friends in the rural Mexico of my early childhood, the adventure into which I was drawn after booking my flights with Mexicana Airlines was a far less pleasant one that caught me totally by surprise. I hope that sharing my story will in some way help others in my situation to enjoy the benefits, and cope with the consumer responsibilities, of independent travel.

The corporate Mission Statement of Mexicana Airlines (as posted on their website) reads: "Mexicana exists, continues, and develops for one fundamental reason: to provide with satisfaction and pride the best possible airline service in order to meet our customers' expectations with safety, experience and traditional Mexican quality, and by contributing to the economic and social development of our community."

I called Mexicana and booked a seat to Morelia, Michoacan for July 9, 2005 with no problems. After a time, I realized that since I would be traveling alone (instead of with family members as I have in the past), I would need some assistance getting on and off the plane. I began to worry. "Will I be able to travel? What's in store for me? What will happen now?" These are only a few of the many questions that went through my head. To insure a smooth travel experience, I decided to call the airline several days in advance of my flight to inform them that I am blind and had made a reservation with their company.

"What services do you have for disabled travelers?" I asked. The gentleman with whom I spoke said he did not know what I was talking about. "One moment," he said. I was on hold for about six minutes, after which time he said "Sir, you cannot travel alone. You need to have either a service dog or a travel companion for your own safety." "Okay, thanks," I said, and thought no more about it.

When I told my mother what had happened, she told me that I needed to fight for my rights. She then called the airline herself, asked the same question that I had asked, and received the same response. She began to quarrel with the airline personnel and demand services for me. During their conversation, the Mexicana agent went so far as to state that had they known I was blind, they would not have even sold me a ticket! "So how will we be able to discuss this situation?" my mother asked. She was told that issues could be discussed at the airport, and that we were to go there and speak with the airline representatives, as the staff answering the phones were only equipped to handle reservations.

With yet a few days remaining before my scheduled trip to Mexico, my mother and I went to the airport to resolve the issue with Mexicana in person, as requested. We repeated the concerns that we had expressed over the telephone, but to no avail. When we asked to speak to the manager, all we were told was "He is unavailable." After spending a good hour there, things were just as before. Nothing had been resolved. My mother was so furious that she stepped out of the place with tears of impotence and wrath in her eyes. "This issue will be solved," she said with a broken voice.

That evening she gave me an idea. She told me to call Univision (the popular Spanish-language media company) and tell them my story. I called their viewer number and gave them an overview of the situation with Mexicana. The next morning I got a phone call from them saying that they would send a reporter and a cameraman over later that day to investigate the case! I was overjoyed. I called my mom, and she immediately came over to wait for the crew.

Sure enough, Univision showed up at my home in Sacramento and interviewed us for the story. They asked us for all of the details, and told us that they had spoken with a civil rights attorney. After our interview, Univision asked us if we would be willing to go back to the airport and ask Mexicana the question that we had asked them the day before. We agreed, and I further consented to be fitted with a hidden microphone so the conversation could be recorded.

When the Mexicana representatives at the airport saw the news cameras they refused to speak until the cameras had been turned off. (Little did they know that I was wired for sound throughout the entire meeting). There was a significant change in their attitude when faced with media scrutiny. The manager stepped out to greet us, and politely asked us what we wanted. One final time, we repeated our simple question to the airline, and this time to a manager. "I'll be right back," he said. Forty-five minutes later he returned.

"You will be given service and you will be helped," my mother and I were finally told. No more was said. We thanked Univision for their assistance and support, and then everyone went their separate ways. That evening at 6:00 and 11:00 p.m. my story aired on Univision.

When the day of my trip finally came, I began to wonder if Mexicana would be true to their word. I was even tempted to just call the whole thing off, but I had already paid for my flight and it was too late to turn back. I gathered all of my courage and went for it - - and when I traveled, I did receive the help I was after.

Sometimes one must demand what one is after!

Mr. Vazquez is a proud 2002 alumnus of the California School for the Blind and Kennedy High School (both in Fremont, CA). He attended the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired in San Pablo, CA. He is currently enrolled in Sacramento City College, and is interested in pursuing a career in sound engineering.

He may be reached through the following address: gshrieves@csb-cde.ca.gov.


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