Show 68 - Marcus Engel - Traveling with a Disability

Listen to Show 68

I'm back! And with an interview that is long overdue! I did this interview with Marcus Engel last October just as I was starting to get sick (as you may be able to tell in the interview, my voice was not at its best).

Marcus talks about things to take into consideration when traveling if you have a disability. You can learn more about Marcus at his website,


You're listening to Disability411, show number 68.

Beth Case: Hello, and welcome to the Disability411 podcast. I'm your host, Beth Case. And, I'm back! For those of you who do not follow my blog or Twitter o Facebook, you may not have realized that I have been pretty sick the last couple months. Not like "hospital sick" or anything, but I've had a very stubborn upper respiratory infection that antibiotics just didn't want to kill. I actually went for several days with no voice at all, which has never happened to me before. I had sore throats, I've had kind of a raspy voice, but I've never had it where I open my mouth to talk and absolutely nothing comes out. As you can expect, that makes it kinda hard to do any podcasts! So that's why you haven't heard anything from me lately, except my typing.

I really want to send out a special thank you to Day al Mohamed who recorded a podcast for you all, for me to send out while i was unable to do one myself. She did a great job! I encourage her and anyone else who would like to contribute to the show, to please contact me and I would love to have you as a guest host. So, as always, you can email me at and let's talk about your ideas.

Today's interview is one that I did with Marcus Engel back in October. You will hear him referring to how it's October, it's Disability Awareness Month, and how he is in Lubbock to do a presentation at Texas Tech University. Unfortunately, this was right at the beginning of where I started getting sick. In fact, I had to do quite a bit of editing to try to remove as much of the coughing as possible from the interview. Some of it is still there, I wasn't able to remove everything. So that is why this interview is just now being released, But it's timeless! He's going to be talking about things to take into consideration if you are a person with a disability and traveling.

Marcus is a wonderful speaker, I don't want to take away his thunder, I'll let him talk about himself as you will hear in the interview. All of his links, all of his books and his videos that he's made that are available on YouTube, all this great stuff that he has prodcued are all available on his website at And of course, that will also be in the shownotes at

So, I'm glad to be back and I hope you all enjoy this interview.

Beth: Tonight, I am thrilled to have with me, in person for a change. Most of my interviews are done over the phone. I am here in person with Marcus Engel. Marcus, thanks so much for taking the time tonight.

Marcus Engel: My pleasure.

Beth: Some of our listeners may have heard the interview that Ron Graham did with you for my show. It's been a few years, I'll have to go back and see which show number it was. So they may have heard of you and be a little bit familiar with you. But for those that aren't, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Marcus: I guess the things that Ron was interviewing me about and the thing that is most associated with who I am, is i'm a professional speaker and author. I live in Orlando, Fl, but as we are together right now, you're not in my place, I'm in yours. Tonight, we are recording this from some annonymous hotel room in Lubbock, TX. I am doing a presentation for Texas Tech University tomorrow on a 10-day road trip speaking across the great state of Texas. One of the main things I speak about whenever I am on the road is, a lot of schools are bringing me in for Disability Awareness Month, which is right now, in October. That is officially who my client is at Texas Tech, but due to my personal story and the journey that I share with audiences, it's not always strictly based on disability awareness.

A little bit about myself -- I'm 34 years old and I'm totally blind for one thing, you're probably not picking that up on the podcast.

Beth: I was wondering if you were going to share that! (laughs) A minor detail...

Marcus: Yes, yes! (laughing) I'm totally blind. My seeing-eye dog, Carson, is a black lab, he's lying here at my feet. I've had Carson for seven years now. I have not always been blind. When I was a Freshman in college, I started my college career at Missouri State University as a typical 18-year-old, red blooded all-American Freshman kid. Six weeks into my Freshman year of college, I went home for the weekend to St. Louis, MO and while I was home that weekend, my friends and I were struck broadside by a drunk driver. And that crash not only left me completely blind, but also crushed every bone in my face. I went through about 2 years of physcial rehabilitation and recovery until I could finally accomplish my goal of getting back into college.

Now, with audiences around the country, it's a lot of my personal journey, but what I share with audiences are the skills and tools that I used to get through my adverse times and try to show tham how they can use those skills that got me through my adverse times into theit own.

Beth: There's a lot of stuff we can talk about. I'm not wanting to steal your thunder from your presentations. But you've been traveling a lot lately. You said you're in the middle of a ten-day tour right now?

Marcus: Yes, if you'd call it a tour! (laughing) I'm right smack dab in the middle of ten days on the road. Started out earlier this week and did programs at Texas A&M University in Commerce, TX, we went to University of North Texas campus in Dallas, did some programs for Southwest Airlines, now here at Texas Tech. And we'll also hit the University of North Texas in Denton, and University of Texas Pan American by the time this is all said and done. Then I get to go home for three days before I head to Minnesota. So it's Disability Awareness Month, it's Red Ribbon Week, it's National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, so this is my busy time of year when I am traveling a lot.

Beth: So, you do a lot of traveling, you do have Carson here with you, so if you hear some noises, it's probably the dog. What's it like travling independently as a blind person?

Marcus: Well, I do a lot of traveling, so you can imagine I've had everything from the most wonderful experiences out there to some that are just horrid. I would have to say that for the vast majority of the travel that I do, it's really quite positive. Between the airline travel and having to get skycaps for escort through the airport, public transportation once I get to where I'm going, btween those kinds of things, and being in different hotel rooms all the time, not being able to find a relief area for the dog, just being blind. Like being in Lubbock. I've only every been in Lubbock for one night before and yet just having to navigate the hotel and such. There's some significant challenges out there, but for the most part, I guess I'm adept enough at traveling that I don't really think of it as all that challenging anymore. Whenever I have to go out and do a program and I'm flying across the country by myself, and doing a program and flying back home by myself, there are many things you can learn throughout that process but I hope that I have learned a few of the tricks of the trade shall we say, over the last several years of travel.

Beth: Can you share some of those secrets with our listeners so they can learn from your experience?

Marcus: I would say one of the biggest things that someone with a disability will probably want to do is first of all, find out is eactly what accommodations they're going to need when traveling and then be able to communicate those accommodations to the airline, to the hotel, to the escort service... oh, that sounds kinda...

Beth: (laughing)

Marcus: (laughing) It's not really an escort service! We're in Lubbock, TX, not Las Vegas!

Beth: And his wife is also sitting in the room, so... (laughing)

Marcus: Sorry! Yeah, I think knowing what you need, then being able to communicate what you need to the people that are designed, to be able to communicate those needs to people whose job is it to assist, is absolutely key.

Beth: So if, let's say airlines or example. Do you need to let them know you're bringing Caron along, an assitance dog?

Marcus: No.

Beth: You don't need to give them any kind of advance warning, or anything like that?

Marcus: No, as far as what a service dog is covered under law, there is no requirement that you need to tell the airline that you're bringing a dog along. I typically don't do it. It may be in one of profiles or something along the way, but even whenever I specifically put that in he notes for whenever I'm booking an airline ticket, the majority of the time, they have no idea, they didn't care. So, it's really been quite nice to find out once I get to the airport and provided that the flight is not totally full, they are usually so accommodating. Airlines are almost always so willing and happy to say "Oh, you have your dog with you, I'm going to try and block off this middle seat here next to you and unless we're totally full, we're going to make sure that you and your dog have a little extra room." And I consistently get that on airlines. It doesn't really matter tha brand of airline, I consistently get that kind of service.

Beth: That's fantastic. What about things like food and water and potty breaks for the dog?

Marcus: Food and water and potty breaks for the dog. I always carry his food along with me and i measure that out before I go. It's just like being a Boy Scout. Be prepared. Be prepared. So I always measure out his food, the correct amount I'm going to need for the trip. On the day that I'm going to be travling, I always prepare, too. I limit his food and water intake before we're going off because there have been many times I've had to make a cross-country flight and gotten delayed plus a five hour flight, plus a quickturn-around so I wouldn't have time to run him outside to have a potty break before we catch the next flight. So there have been many times when Carson has just had to kinda cross his legs and breath deep for 8-9 hours before relief time. But we prepare for that.

The Air Carrier Act of 2009, they strongly suggest that airports have a pet relief area. That's a strong suggestion, it's not a reuirement, it's not a law. And many airports I've found over the last year have put in pet relief areas, but often those areas are outside of the security area.

Beth: So you have to go back through security!

Marcus: So I have to turn around and go through security, got to empty my laptop, take off my belt, take off my shoes, and due to the fact that in crash I was involved with that took my site, I also had a lot of orthopedic injuries through that, too, so I've got metal rods in my legs, in my face and everything. So they usually have to wand me down and personally pat me down...

Beth: So going through security is not fast.

Marcus: My trip through security is never fast. And Carson is going to set off the security alarm with just his choke chain and his harness and his leash, and I'm going to set it off because I've got metal in my body. It's great in theory, but sometimes depending on how quickly your connecting flight is leaving, you just don't have an hour to go through the line, get padded down, etc. etc. That's always going to be an issue, I think, for folks traveling with a dog.

Beth: So, what about transportation once you have reached your destination. I mean, of course you can't just rent a car and drive around town. So, what kind of things do you need to prepare for or look into ahead of time so you can get around town?

Marcus: I always want to find out exactly what my clients are going to need from me and what the transportation options are, too. Typically, depending on what sort of location I'm in, I'm going to try and find a hotel that has shuttle service to and from the airport. If that doesn't happen, and it often doesn't happen at many airports across the country. If that doesn't happen, I'm going to arrange for car service or just find out if there are taxi cabs sitting at the airport that I can take.

I am very, very good at entertaining myself in a hotel room, so as long as I have an Internet connection and a TV and a comfortable bed, I'm happy. So, it's not like whenever I'm in town, I'm usually saying "Oh, I really feel like Italian tonight, I'm going to go out." No, I'm really just going to...

Beth: You're really low maintenance, huh?

Marcus: I try to be pretty low maintenance that way.

Beth: Have you had any troubles with taxis not wanting to take the dog in the taxi?

Marcus: Yes, I have. In fact, I just got word last week about a situation I had in December of 2005. In Decemeber of 05, I was flying back into St. Louis from Atlanta and I was catchinga cab at the airport to go home. I was living in St. Louis at the time, now I live in Orlando. But whenever I got to the taxi stand, they've got half a dozen cabs waiting there, and the officer standing there points to the one that's going to take me. And the driver jumps out keeps saying "No dog! No dog! No dog!" and the officer explained it to him and I explained it to him, look this is a service dog, under the law he is a non-entity. And the driver kept refusing, kept refusing, and finally the officer said, "I'm going to write this guy up." He wrote out a ticket, it was very well-documented, and as much as I hated to do this, because I'm not a litigious person, I don't like the idea of "somebody made me mad, somebody did something wrong, let's sue them." But in this case, it was the first time in ten years of traveling with a dog I've had someone just out right refuse to take me, so I did take that case to an attourney and we do have a date set in March, I believe, when it will actually go to trial.

Beth: Wow, it happened, how long ago?

Marcus: 2005. So almost four years ago.

Beth: Wow, it's a slow process.

Marcus: It's a slow process, but the thing of it is, through that process, the cab company had the ability to say "I'm sorry, I apologize for this, let's settle this right now." They have refused every time to settle or to even come to the table. They said "Yeah, your rights were violated, but so what? You could have caught a cab 10 minutes later." That's not the point! And unfortunately, with corporations, I think the only way they're truly going to learn things they don't want to learn, lessons are taught through their pocketbook.

Beth: Too often, the only way to make change is unfortunately to take that legal step. You like to think people are reasonable, but sometimes you have to do that in order to make things happen.

Marcus: Correct.

Beth: I'm happy you followed through with it, instead of just letting it pass.

Marcus: I figured that's exactly what Martin LutherKing fought for was the civil rights for all people, and I just cannot let my civil rights be violated like I'm Joe Average Any Citizen, that just doesn't need to happen.

Beth: Right. What about other things when you travel, like hotel rooms?

Marcus: Hotel rooms. Hotels are, I would be hard pressed to find many blind people who say when they travel, hotels don't pose any kind of problems whatsoever. Hotels do pose problems. They're all very standard, so if you have 40 rooms down the hall, sometimes it might be a little difficult to find your room. But typically, the rooms are labelled with Braille and raised numbers, so I certainly utilize that. Depending on where the hotel is located, it sometimes poses a problem for taking the dog out. I spent three or four days in Manhatten this summer and you've got to walk a block and a half down a busy street just to find...

Beth: Some grass?

Marcus: Or a grate! Sometimes it's not even grass, it's a grate that has a tree sticking out of it, and that has to serve as a park area.

Beth: And you probably don't want a room on the 15th floor, you gotta be taking the elevator up and down all the time!

Marcus: And sometimes, yes, that's rather difficult, too, that's just difficult. You can be in a high rise with 40 floors and every floor has a button. Do you want to read through 40 different raised letters or Braille letters to find the one that you want. But when that does happen, you deal with it, you deal with it. There's ways to get around everything.

i have to say I am so incredibly pleased and surprised on a daily basis how giving and accommoating and compassionate the general public is. So many times I'll be stepping outside and just some random person might be standing outside the hotel having a smoke break or whatever they might be doing and say "Hey buddy. You need some help or anything?" and I just say "Yeah, can you tell me where I might find the nearest patch of grass for the dog?" "Sure, I'll walk with you down here." So it's really nice to see that, I think, the vast majority of people out there are compassionate and want to help.

One of the other consistent things I get with hotels is, I walk up to the counter, they see that I have a disability, I've got my guide dog with me, and they immediately put me into a box of "a person with a disability". So they give me the handicap accessible room. Which I personally now ask that it not be a handicap accessible room because the support bars and things like that are sometimes in areas where I'll bend over in the shower to pick up my razor and BAM, hit my head on a bar that wouldn't have been there in a room that wasn't handicap accessible. So that is one of the consistent challenges, I have to always ask "Can you please make sure that i am not in a wheelchair room?"

Beth: Well, their hearts are in the right place!

Marcus: Absolutely! The heart is always in the right place.

Beth: So what other pieces of advice might you have regarding traveling?

Marcus: I think that the old adage that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar goes a long way if you're a person with a disability who needs some assistance or accommodations in airports, on airplanes, etc. etc. If you can quietly, calmly and politely explain, "Hey, is there any possibility of getting a seat that would help me out a little bit more?" Almost always, the airline personnel are going to try and accommodate you. But if you walk in, and I've seen it, not from myself, but I've seen it from other passengers with disabilities, who walk up with a sense of entitlement and say "You'd better give me a First Class seat" or "You'd better put me in a bulkhead" or "You'd better give me this seat because I just need it." I think that you're not going to get as good of results as if you just explained to somebody, politely, "Hey, it would really be helpful if Icould have a seat in a bulkhead. Is that cool?" And they'll say "Oh, absolutely." 99% of the time, if they can, they will let that happen.

Beth: I think that's good advice for anyone.

Marcus: Absolutely.

Beth: Well, let's tell or audience about your books, where they can find them, where they can find out more about you, about your YouTube videos that you've done. This is your chance to plug yourself!

Marcus: Very good, very good. Well, like I said, I'm a professional speaker and author. My programs are often utilized by college campuses for Disability Awareness Week, and usually the Disability Office is going to tag team with the Health and Wellness Office, or Greek Affairs, or Residence Life or whatever the other organizations on campus are, to bring my programs to the students. If you would like more information about that, you can find my website. It's Or if that's too hard to spell, you can also look at

Beth: We'll also have all of his links in our shownotes, so you can just visit and get those links as well.

Marcus: Even better, even better. And if anybody has any kinds of questions, again, I can't claim I know everything about traveling, but with, I think 100-125 flights per year, and I think I've learned the travel game pretty well. So if you have any questions you would like some input on, I would be happy to give you whatever information I can and you can find me through my website at

Beth: Fantastic. We'll have some more information about Marcus and all of his links in our shownotes. Thank you again for taking so much time tonight.

Marcus: My pleasure. Thank you guys so much for what you do on Disability411.

Beth: Thank you.

Beth: I want to thank Marcus, not just for a great interview, but for being so patient until I was able to get this interview published. This is an extraordinary amount of time for me between recording and actually getting it sent out. And so I do apologize for the delay, and appreciate Marcus understanding.

Let me talk just a little bit about the future of Disability411. I love this podcast. It means so much to me, personally and professionally, and it is definitely also going to keep going. But I am also planning to pay a little more attention to the blog that is at Sometimes I'll come across something that's interesting or some new developments, new technology, or something where maybe I don't really have enough information to do an entire podcast on it, and I might post about it on the blog. So that's something you might want to check out if the podcasts are not coming out very frequently, I may have a lot of good information on the blog. Or maybe I'll decide to post some mini-podcasts, that are only 5-10 minutes long of some tidbit of information I've come across. So that's another idea of something I might be doing with the podcast. I also have some ideas of some things that I can tlk about that i've learned. I've done mostly interviews for quite a while now, but I ahev some things that I can share with you all myself that are in the plans. There may even be some videos that are going to be added to the podast instead of it being audio-only. But don't worry, they will be captioned. As always, I'm very concerned about accessibility.

I also have a couple of other interviews that are lined up, that are in the works. So, not only is my voice back, nice and strong, but I'm back, nice and strong. And ready to really delve in and create some really cool stuff for you all on this podcast.

So, until next time, visit our webpage at You can email me at and tell me your ideas, your thoughts, your suggestions for topics or if you would like to volunteer to host a show,I would love to hear from you. So until next time, this is Beth Case with Disability411.

The Disability411 podcast is protected by the Creative Commons Attribution Non- Commercial Share- Alike 3.0 United States license, which means you can share our podcast, you just can’t make any money off it. Visit our website at to find show notes, past shows, and transcripts of all the episodes as well as useful links, blogs and much more. Email us at Thank you for listening.