Hi Friends! Nahara Here with Life Without Limitz. Today we are talking about the slaughter of wheelchairs and scooters in the airline industry. I came across this subject while hosting a chat session on disability topics. One of the participants who had traveled earlier in the year told us her experience. American Airlines had broken her powerchair and left her stranded without an equivalent replacement. I have traveled many times and have not had this experience happen to me therefore, I decided to start doing some research and just in two days this is what I found.

I decided to look at our Nation's Air Travel Consumer Report. This report is gigantic, and it gives us insight to many things about the airline industry including their mishandling of wheelchairs and scooters report which tells us how many wheelchairs and or scooters were damaged during a 30-day period. This report also shows us the same data for enplaned baggage placed underneath the plane. The data is astonishing for me, especially when I think of the emotional and physical damage this causes us disabled individuals.

 When our wheelchairs get damaged, we technically lose our freedom all over again. If you are lucky enough to have another source of mobility that is great! Most of us do not have the ability to purchase two powerchairs or a powerchair and a manual chair. When we travel and our mobility devices are damaged, we are left with no way of life essentially. I do not think the airlines realize how negatively we are impacted when our wheelchairs are damaged during our flight process, so let me just name a few: 

  • Loss of Wages
    • When we do not have our mobility devices we cannot get to and from work. If work offers telework that is great but for most this is not an option. Once our chair is taken away, we are constricted to wherever we are placed, if we do not have another mobility device.
  • Health Risks
    • The power chairs and scooters we use are specifically measured and designed to fit our bodies. When we are placed in another mobility device for an extended period there is a great risk of ulcers, skin irritation, back and muscle pain, spasms, and we may not be able to be as mobile as we are on our own power chairs/scooter.
  • Mental Health Risk
    • When we are without our mobility devices, we feel confined, restricted, depressed, and anxious all the time. Unless we have another way of getting around, I have talked to other disabled individuals who say that they experience depression, anxiety because they worry, they will not be able to adequately get to safety if an emergency where to occur. They feel less than, less than because they cannot accomplish daily life activities without their mobility device.

Those are just a few of the things that we endure while waiting for a new chair to arrive; which often takes more than two months on average. I wanted to shed some light on this inequality. I studied the Air Travel Consumer Report and found that the rate per 1,000 passengers for enplaned baggage is 3.28 while the rate per 1,000 wheelchairs enplaned vs damaged is 11.37! I think is safe to say that our wheelchairs get damaged at a rate that is 3.5 times that of enplaned baggage. Here is the math below showing the rate per 1,000 as the report failed to add this percentage to the wheelchair and scooters graph. Maybe because it would show the inequality of treatment?

There is clearly a lack of empathy, training, resources and equipment if employees are damaging wheelchairs and scooters at 3X the rate as baggage. I am sure there are things that I am not aware of or obstacles they may need to get thru but with an industry that makes billions of dollars a year I truly believe in my heart that this is an issue that is not going to be all that expensive to fix. I am starting my journey to help solve this problem, and I am pleading with the airlines to reach out to the disabled community leaders and people like you and myself who have been disabled for many years. We need to explain to them first hand what it is like having experienced the pain of having your one piece of equipment that gives you freedom stripped from you for mere carelessness, lack of training, or lack of proper equipment. I truly understand the employees sometimes too, how do you lift a 400-500lbs power chair on your own or even with two people and not damage it? Some airports do not have the proper equipment and some airports and airlines may not know how to train their employees appropriately. 

I am asking that they start looking into these numbers with a sense of urgency to minimize the damage and if they need a little help, Life Without Limitz can help, we will be glad to give training session to employees and help you understand how utterly crushing and dangerous damaging a power chair or scooter can be for some of us. This is just the beginning as I deep dive into this matter, I will be posting updates as I go on this journey, and I hope those of you who find it unjust as well, join in the fight also. I hope to find a solution or a way that we can all work together to enhance this experience for all of us.

 Nahara Lutner: Author

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