• Wed. May 11th, 2022

How the airline industry still refuses to accommodate disability

When her wheelchair was badly damaged on her Delta Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Newark, New Jersey, model and influencer Bri Scalesse took to TikTok and recorded a video that quickly went viral. “Today my freedom and independence have been taken away from me,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to live my life.”

Almost no one is eager to travel by plane. But if you are a wheelchair user, flying is not just a disadvantage; it can be devastating.

Airlines reportedly lost or broken 10,548 wheelchairs or scooters in 2019.

In 2018, 36,930 disability-related complaints were lodged with airlines. Airlines reportedly lost or broken 10,548 wheelchairs or scooters in 2019, more than 1 in 100 they handle, but little has been done to address the problem. A disability rights group called All Wheels Up is trying to change that by fighting for the Air Carrier Access Change Act, co-sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., And Representative Jim Langevin , DR.I. The law would require new planes to meet accessibility standards and existing planes to make modifications to accommodate passengers with disabilities.

According to a report released last year by the Department of Transportation, airlines damage about 29 wheelchairs of disabled travelers every day.

No data is available until 2019, as airlines were not required to report or track the number of wheelchairs lost or damaged before that. “My wheelchair is my freedom, a part of me,” Scalesse told MSNBC. “I was devastated.”

Because wheelchair damage or loss is so common, theft is just not a privilege that extends to the disability community as well. “Eighty percent of the wheelchair community does not fly because of a personal risk or loss of their wheelchair due to damage,” said Michele Erwin, Founder and President of All Wheels Up. The organization is pushing for wheelchair users “to move independently on the plane with dignity and safety” and to make “air travel fully accessible to the millions of people who use wheelchairs around the world “.

It is about respecting human rights, but also about recognizing the disabled community as consumers.

Erwin says that with the organization’s vice president, Alan Chaulet, she has been successful in convincing airlines to start reporting the number of mobility devices they are compromising and to commit to making the flight accessible. to the disabled community.

Erwin and Chaulet stress that it is a question of respecting human rights, but also of recognizing the community of people with disabilities as consumers. “Flying is difficult, but thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, most destinations are accessible and the same is true all over the world,” said Chaulet. “People with disabilities have money to spend.

Airlines aren’t just losing money on repairs, replacements, or refunds for wheelchair flights or offering future travel vouchers to disgruntled disabled travelers; they’re also missing out on business from potential clients who avoid flying for fear of becoming another headline.

And it’s not just the loss and damage to wheelchairs – it’s delays like the one that forced disability rights activist D’Arcee Charington out of a Delta flight in 2015. The restroom in airplanes are not accessible to people with most mobility problems. While trains and buses are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and create wheelchair spaces and accessible toilets, planes have been exempted from complying with the law because they still obey the Air Carrier Act, which was passed in 1986, before the Americans. with a disability was enacted.

While some airlines appear to be interested in All Wheels Up’s research, education and training programs, the pace of chance is slow. “They are taking these steps,” Erwin said of the airlines. “I just wish they would take more aggressive action.… Unfortunately, we are still a few years away from implementing a wheelchair space on airplanes.”

This is because the Federal Aviation Administration has not approved wheelchairs on flights. All Wheels Up says it is the only organization funding and conducting wheelchair crash test studies to help make this certification a reality.

Erwin also said most airlines do not have evacuation strategies for travelers with disabilities during emergency landings. “There is no plan for you if you are a traveler with a disability,” she said. “If you are a person with reduced mobility, the only suggestion that has been made to flight attendants is to literally get them off the plane.”

Most airlines do not have evacuation strategies for travelers with disabilities during emergency landings.

All Wheels Up provides disabled travelers with a tool it calls ADAPTS, which stands for A Disabled Passenger Transfer Sling, which can help carry a disabled passenger in an emergency. The harness was designed by an anonymous flight attendant. Erwin hopes airlines will integrate them so that the burden does not fall on the disabled community for how to survive emergency landings.

Since the program started in January, 30 ADAPTS straps and special CARES harnesses (additional double shoulder straps to help disabled passengers to settle in safely) have been distributed. Erwin says she is waiting for grants to continue to go through a waiting list of disabled travelers who have requested the devices.

To get the tools for free, travelers with disabilities should email [email protected] with their name, email and home address, phone numbers, and age and explain why the tool would help them have an experience of safer flight.

All Wheels Up, which funds all of its work through donations, is hosting a 5K virtual fundraiser. He also has a petition lobbying the FAA to add wheelchair spaces on planes.

When it comes to air travel, as it often is, it feels like disability is just not a priority. “It is ludicrous that airlines can safely transport dogs and other pets under the plane to keep them alive, but are unable to not break wheelchairs, which are durable by conception, ”Dylan Bulkeley-Krane, Disability Rights Policy Coordinator for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential. campaign, told MSNBC.

“Airlines are also able to carry larger baggage, like skis or surfboards, without a problem, but will not develop clear protocols to ensure wheelchair safety during transport,” Bulkeley-Krane said. .

The fact that passengers can board their flights with their ducks but not their wheelchairs should shame us all with the enabling laws that still govern the airline industry.

“We don’t want to be afraid of flying, of traveling, of feeling joy,” Scalesse said. “A serious change needs to be made to the way the airline industries treat and store chairs. I want my chair to be treated as an extension of my body.”

Wheelchairs are not a luxury item; they are a lifeline. Forcing disabled travelers to separate from their wheelchairs is like forcing them to lose a part of themselves. And passengers with disabilities shouldn’t be responsible for ensuring that they are treated as such.