Disability advocate Engracia Figueroa died after airline damaged wheelchair

2021-11-13 07:22:45 By : Ms. Lusie Jung

In August, United Airlines staff accidentally damaged Figueroa's wheelchair. Figueroa passed away on October 31... [].

Engracia Figueroa, a well-known disability rights advocate, died on October 31 at the age of 51. Many people mourned her passing, they thought her tragic death could have been avoided.

In July, Figueroa participated in the "Care Can't Wait" rally in Washington, DC. After Figueroa returned to her home in Los Angeles, she made a terrible discovery-a United Airlines staff accidentally damaged her wheelchair. A wheelchair worth US$30,000 has been loaded into the cargo hold and destroyed there. Figueroa suffered a spinal injury and had an amputated leg. Her wheelchair was customized to support her body. Without a wheelchair, Figueroa has difficulty maintaining balance and sitting upright.

Figueroa represented Hand in Hand at the Care Can't Wait rally. Hand in Hand reported her death. Figueroa often collaborates with Hand in Hand, a network that advocates for better working conditions for domestic workers such as nanny, house cleaner and household attendant. "Ngracia was forced to sit in a dilapidated manual wheelchair." After spending five hours at the airport, Hand in Hand explained-"The length of time she struggled to maintain balance in the malfunctioning equipment led to the development of pressure sores. When she was finally able to go home, she experienced severe pain and was soon admitted to the hospital."

United Airlines initially refused to replace Figueroa's custom chairs. According to the "Airline Operator Access Act", airlines must repair or replace lost or damaged auxiliary equipment. However, simply repairing the wheelchair may not be an appropriate solution. Hand in Hand said, “An electric wheelchair that is so badly damaged poses a serious risk of fire and is unsafe.” Disabled people must wait, sometimes weeks, before their wheelchair can be repaired.

A few months after the accident, Manchester United finally agreed to change the chair, but "hand in hand" argued that Figueroa suffered health complications during this period: "They [Manchester United] struggled with her for months when they were fighting to replace the chair. Inflicted damage to his body. In the process of competing with Manchester United to replace the chair, Ngracia was forced to use a loan chair that did not fit Ngracia's body."

These tweets described some damage to Figueroa's wheelchair.

As Figueroa had to use a wheelchair that could not support her torso and hips, her pressure sores became worse. The sore became infected and spread to her hip bone. The doctor tried to save Figueroa's life through emergency surgery, but she died soon after.

A representative of Manchester United told the Independent, "We are sad to hear that Ms. Figueroa has passed away, and we express our condolences to her family and friends."

When Figueroa discovered that her customized wheelchair was destroyed, she worked with Hand in Hand to call on airlines to adopt a new policy regarding the transportation of wheelchairs. Before the fourth and final accident, Figueroa's wheelchair had been damaged during three separate trips.

In 2019, 10,548 people with disabilities reported that their wheelchairs, scooters or other assistive devices were lost, damaged or stolen during the journey. The airline damages at least 29 wheelchairs every day.

"Mobile devices are an extension of our body. When they are damaged or destroyed, we lose our ability again. Until airlines learn how to treat our devices with due care and respect, flying remains inaccessible," Figuero Ya said in an interview with ABC in August. In the interview, Figueroa explained how frustrated she was after Manchester United damaged her chair: "I just want to fight for and fight for all the independence that I succeeded in surviving... it was Deprived, I was completely disabled and traumatized as well as injured and exhausted."

Figueroa has dedicated her life to service and has had a positive impact in her community. She is a storyteller, an actor, and chairperson of the Active Independent Free Living Community Committee, a center that helps people with disabilities live independent lives in Los Angeles. Hand in Hand encourages people to commemorate Figueroa by preventing airlines from accidentally damaging their wheelchairs in the future.

Airlines can implement new training policies and procedures to teach employees how to properly handle, store, and transport wheelchairs and other assistive equipment.

Hand in Hand issued a petition encouraging airlines to "establish regulations and systems to protect these devices and ensure that people with disabilities can use them." Readers can click here to sign the petition.

Author's note: United Airlines did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Readers may notice that the author used phrases such as "disabled" instead of "disabled." Some writers and researchers argue about the benefits of using identity first or human first language. Since many advocates regard their disability as an important part of their lives, the author chose to use the identity first language mainly in this article.