It's not just United Airlines: Commercial air travel is cruel to people with disabilities

2021-11-13 07:22:38 By : Ms. Jenny Liu

In recent years, United Airlines has made headlines due to its rather unfriendly customer experience. In 2017, the company notoriously used force to take a passenger from an overbooked plane and injured the man in the process. A few months later, the company was in trouble due to the death of a big rabbit named Simon; by 2018, it also ran into trouble because a flight attendant forced a passenger to put her pet dog in a large overhead In storage, it died there. The company even became the target of the protest song "United Breaks Guitars," which was composed by an artist who claimed that the company destroyed his instruments.

The company could easily be the target of jokes about its customer service crisis. However, the recent death of a disability rights activist due to an airline's alleged damage to her wheelchair illustrates a deeper systemic disability in our society-the problem is not limited to an airline. 

Hand in hand: Engracia Figueroa, a disability rights advocate of the domestic employer network, died on October 31 at the age of 51. A few months ago, a United Airlines employee accidentally damaged her dedicated wheelchair. According to Hand in Hand, the destruction of Figueroa's wheelchair in July was far more than an inconvenience. This device is specially made to adapt to Figueroa's disability due to spinal injury and leg amputation. Without it, it would be dangerous for her to spend too much time. The five-hour wait at the airport (during which she learned that her chair had been destroyed) resulted in severe pain and pressure sores that she had to be hospitalized. To make matters worse, the company initially refused to replace Figueroa’s chairs under the Airline Access Act, which requires airlines to replace damaged or misplaced auxiliary equipment. Since Figueroa's chair is electric, it may be unsafe or a fire hazard if she uses it when it is damaged, and her body needs something more professional than the standard wheelchair they provide her.

Sadly, when Manchester United finally agreed to provide Figueroa with a suitable replacement chair, “the months they [Man United] fought against the replacement caused her body harm,” said hand in hand. "During the fight with Manchester United to replace the chair, Ngracia was forced to use a borrowed chair that did not fit Ngracia's body properly." This exacerbated her pressure sore and caused the infection to spread to her hip bone. , Which eventually led to her death. (Sharon contacted Hand-in-Hand and United Airlines for comment on this story; neither of them responded, although they bluntly supported Figueroa, and United Airlines made a public statement to Figueroa through a statement to the Independent. Family members express their condolences.)

In many interviews before her death, Figueroa explained that when airlines damage or destroy mobile devices, they will destroy lives. "Mobile devices are an extension of our body. When they are damaged or destroyed, we become disabled again," Figueroa said, according to "Hand in Hand." "Until airlines learn how to treat our equipment with the care and respect they deserve, flying remains inaccessible."

Her words reflect the disability flying report published in the Journal of the Travel and Tourism Research Association in 2016. Based on the analysis of the three major domestic airlines in Australia, scholars have concluded that the "essence of experience" of passengers with disabilities involves "a new physical experience that transforms a person's barriers into socially constructed disabilities. Social Construction It is the product of the construction of the international community. Aviation regulations, airline procedures, the pressure brought by the introduction of low-cost airlines into Australia, and a new wave of occupational health and safety considerations."

They may also come from this study published in the Journal of Travel Research in 2009: "The results of the study indicate that participants face physical and social difficulties, which can cause humiliation and physical pain for wheelchair users. In addition, The crew indicated to the disabled that they need to train and educate airline employees."

Experts who spoke to Sharon confirmed that these descriptions, written many years ago, are still accurate. For example, Claire Stanley, a public policy analyst at the National Disability Rights Network, used the term “door-to-door” when describing the breadth of unfavorable experiences that people with disabilities may encounter when trying to use commercial airlines. .

"There are many unfortunate situations involving poor treatment of people with disabilities," Stanley explained. She described how medical equipment triggered safety metal detectors, and how vulnerable or potentially embarrassing disabled people complained that they were poorly treated by security checks while preparing for the flight. People with service dogs say they often encounter employees who don’t know how to work with them properly, as do those with colostomy bags. (Obviously, the problems encountered in these two scenarios are quite different.)

Stanley said to Sharon: “It’s just a lack of training to conduct security checks for various disabilities, and a lack of respect for dignity and timely action.” “I heard that people with disabilities say they must go to the airport a few hours in advance to pass the TSA. Because if they don’t, they will never be able to reach their plane on time.” Even if they pass the security check, the torture of boarding may not end. Being able to easily move a person's body to the vehicle itself is a privilege of a capable person, not a universal ability.

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"When I say'door to door,' you go to the ticket counter to check in, and then you will be escorted through the airport to your boarding gate," Stanley said, adding that this is not for the disabled Not always feasible. "The two major groups you hear are physically disabled people who need to be pushed through the airport to reach their gate, or those of us who are blind or visually impaired are escorted through the airport to our gate. "Many times, the people who should do these jobs don't know how to do them well.

Once passengers board the plane, their struggle may continue. Even if they do not need to worry about the crew destroying the necessary life-sustaining equipment, they must also care about their experience of the vehicle itself. This is where the pain of wheelchair users becomes particularly prominent; a report in June found that airlines had lost or damaged more than 15,000 wheelchairs since the end of 2018.

“In October 2019, a member of [Paralyzed Veterans of America] was carried off the plane,” Heather Ainsley, deputy executive director of government relations for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), told Sharon via email. "Although there was no emergency request, she was told that allowing others to lift her off the plane was the only way for her to get off the plane. Although she was uncomfortable with the process, she reluctantly agreed. When she was lifted off the plane, She was afraid that they would abandon her and could feel the struggle of those who tried to help her."

This is not the only adverse flight experience reported by PVA members. Ansley described a PVA member who had to use the armrest of the other seat to move himself to the front of the plane because there appeared to be no aisle chair to transport him from his seat to the wheelchair waiting for him on the jet bridge. Another person reported that when he was taken away from the plane, the crew on the plane allowed him to fall to the ground. A volunteer leader was "seriously injured" after being transferred to an aisle chair in order to board the plane and fell over; this error fractured his tailbone, which eventually resulted in skin breakage and bone infection.

"Generally speaking, commercial aircraft hardly need to meet accessibility standards for people with disabilities," Ainsley explained. In addition to the problem of storing wheelchairs, the interior of the aircraft itself is also full of embarrassment and even danger.

Ainsley wrote in a letter to Sharon: “The interior of the plane is hostile to those who have to use aisle chairs to board the plane, because the aisles are very narrow and many people report that when they are dragged to their seats They will hit the handrails at times.” “Once on the plane, most single-aisle planes cannot use the restrooms, which means that disabled people with mobility issues or need help in the restrooms cannot use the restrooms on these planes. Therefore, they must be dehydrated. And fast to minimize the chance of an accident."

Even before passengers with disabilities arrive at the airport, they may encounter unfair difficulties because of their disabilities. A report published in the “Government Information Quarterly” magazine in 2010 tested whether airlines comply with the Ministry of Transportation’s regulations. If the customer is a disabled person who cannot use the website, the company cannot charge a purchase fee for buying tickets over the phone. Despite this rule, two airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines, impose discriminatory pricing on more than one-third of calls, even if they are told they should not do so. The problem seems to be beyond the scope of "door-to-door". This is how our transportation infrastructure perceives—or more accurately, cannot perceive—the structural defects of people with different abilities.

"I haven't seen a mode of transportation designed for all users ([especially] disabled travelers) from the beginning," adopted by Carol Tyson, Government Liaison, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) Email to tell Sharon. "Activists and advocates with disabilities had to fight for every gain-in fact, in the 70s and 80s, in order to take public buses, the bodies and lives were put at risk." Tyson added that if one This kind of transportation is not friendly to people with disabilities, "We will stick to them for many years (if not decades), and the cost of modification is higher, and sometimes it is less safe."

The particular tragedy, at least in the case of wheelchair accessibility, is that US leaders have personally understood the importance of aircraft accommodating such equipment for many years. President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself was also a paraplegic. He used a special elevator nicknamed "Holy Cow" to get on and off the plane without any inconvenience. This machine is an engineering marvel of the mid-20th century. In fact, it does not herald an era in which disabled passengers can have the same experience as non-disabled passengers. This is not so much a lack of technology, as it is a deep structural problem and systemicity in the development of our transportation infrastructure. bias.

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation told Sharon in a statement, “This statement is heartbreaking and adds to the urgency of the work we and others in the industry are working hard to do to make aviation more accessible.”

Update: This story was updated at 5:00 PM Eastern Time, including a statement from the Department of Transportation.

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He has a master's degree in history from Rutgers University at Newark and a doctorate in history from Lehigh University. His work has appeared on Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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