When will disabled people be able to fly without worrying about their wheelchairs? Recently I read a story about a woman who had her wheelchair broken by an airline, specifically United Airlines. A woman, named Engracia Figueroa who was a huge disability advocate, had her wheelchair, which Engracia depended on for her daily life broken by United Airlines. And yes, I said it twice because these people that have their chairs broken and damaged are people, they are not just some faceless name, they are living breathing people who deserve their property to be treated with respect.
The following is a quote from an article from the Forbes magazine website “In July, Figueroa attended the Care Can’t Wait rally in Washington, DC. After Figueroa traveled back home to Los Angeles, she made an awful discovery — United Airlines workers had accidentally damaged her wheelchair. The $30,000 wheelchair had been loaded into the cargo hold, where it was destroyed. Figueroa had a spinal injury and a leg amputation, and her wheelchair was custom-designed to support her body. Without her wheelchair, Figueroa had difficulty balancing and sitting upright… ‘Engracia was forced to sit in a broken manual wheelchair’ for five hours in the airport, Hand in Hand explains — ‘Her struggle to maintain her balance over that length of time in the faulty device led to the development of a pressure sore. When she was finally able to return home, she experienced acute pain, and was admitted to the hospital shortly after.'”
This is absolutely disgusting. Because United Airlines workers did not know how to handle Engraicas wheelchair, she had to use a loaner chair which was not customized for her needs which lead to a pressure soar that inevitably lead to her untimely death after being admitted to the hospital.
There is an act in place to avoid situations like this called the Airline Carrier Access Act. airlines are required to repair and/or replace lost or damaged assistive devices, this would include wheelchairs; which when it comes to wheelchairs that is easier said than done because a customized wheelchair cannot be repaired or replaced overnight.
What needs to be done is that these workers who are handling these wheelchairs going into the cargo space, need to recognize the importance of these wheelchairs to their users lives. They also need to know how to operate and care for the chairs that they are responsible for.
The simple fact that this is the second blog I am writing about airlines and wheelchairs, is a problem. Myself and Charlie dream of a day where air travel is not this huge scary deal for people who use wheelchairs.