Passengers with Disabilities Deserve Respect
Traveling via airplane as a person with a spinal cord injury means enduring what can best be described as a humiliating experience boarding and deplaning the aircraft. It means being strapped into an aisle chair that is pulled backwards onto the plane to your seat before anyone else boards, hitting your backside and hips on seat armrests along the way. It means not using a restroom from then until after the process is repeated once you have landed because there is no requirement for lavatories on single aisle aircraft to be accessible to people with disabilities.
While all of this might sound like an inconvenience it is actually much more than that. Aisle chairs aren’t like the custom wheelchairs that people with spinal cord injuries use a daily basis. They are little more than a hard seat on wheels that has to be pulled by someone who has little training in helping people with permanent disabilities. The chair doesn’t provide the type of support needed. Hitting your hips and backside can exacerbate injuries or lead to new ones. Because the lavatory isn’t accessible, many passengers with spinal cord injuries dehydrate themselves prior to a flight. Having an overfull bladder is not just discomforting it can lead to serious health risks.
It is imperative that we improve the air travel experience for people with disabilities. An important first step is to treat all passengers with disabilities as individuals. Ask us what, if any, accommodations we need. We know when we are at risk. Even passengers who look like they have the same disability likely have different needs.
Only when we treat passengers with disabilities with respect and dignity will we begin to improve the air travel experience. Having planes that are accessible to people with disabilities would also help to fulfill the promise of the Air Carrier Access Act.Ernie Butler, VA