Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Photo: ThinkstockIt should have been just a routine business trip for Emily
Landau from New York City to Minnesota, where she was scheduled to speak at a
disability rights conference.
But the return flight home turned into a
nightmare.
Landau, who has Larsen Syndrome—a genetic joint and muscle
disorder that has left her unable to walk—requires a wheelchair for
transportation.
The crew checked her wheelchair, like they always do, and
escorted her to her seat on the plane via one of airline"s aisle
wheelchairs.
But she was in for a shock when they landed.""When I arrived at
the gate I discovered the staff had no idea where my wheelchair was," she
recalls.
Even more disconcerting, none of the airline personnel seemed
concerned.
"They told me to walk over to baggage claim and file a missing
luggage report," she says.
"By then, I was in tears, trying to explain to
them, ‘How do you expect me to walk? My wheelchair is my legs!" They
were treating a $50,000 piece of equipment like a missing Samsonite
suitcase.""
Related: No Limits: First Quadriplegic Woman Summits Kilimanjaro
Emily Landau (Photo: Emily Landau)Landau"s friend pushed her through the
airport in the airline"s flimsy aisle chair, a process that was uncomfortable,
jarring and took about 45 minutes.
They found the wheelchair, sitting untagged
in front of an office near baggage claim.
Passenger D"Arcee Neal made headlines recently when he crawled off of his
flight after United Airlines failed to bring him his wheelchair.
But while his
story inspired outrage — and an apology from United — disability
rights activists say his story is more the norm than the exception when it
comes to air travel for people with physical disabilities."Under the Air
Carrier Access Act of 1986, airlines have a slew of regulations they need to
comply with to meet the needs of people with disabilities, including movable
aisle armrests, accessible bathrooms, and providing assistance when it comes
to boarding, deplaning, and making connections.
Yet the Department of
Transportation (DOT) still receives 600 to 700 formal disability-related
complaints per year, or about 5 percent of total airline passenger complaints
annually.
And the airlines themselves receive far more: over 27,500 in 2014
for both national and international travel, according to the DOT.
""For every
claim filed, we believe there are at least 100 other individuals who
experienced the same treatment who don"t bother filing complaints," says Dara
Baldwin, a public policy analyst at the National Disability Rights Network in
Washington, D.C.
Here, World traveling club uncovers some of the most common
issues.Wheelchair woes Attorney Powell (Photo: Robyn Powell)Disability
rights attorney Robyn Powell has flown nine times over the past year—
and seven of those times, her motorized wheelchair has been broken.
"The
airline always pays for it, but sometimes it takes up to a week to fix, and
you have to make do with a loaner wheelchair, which is virtually useless," she
says."She thinks most of the problem is due to staff not knowing how to load
chairs properly.
"One time I knew they were having trouble with the wheelchair
because the pilot announced that it was the reason the flight couldn"t take
off on time," she recalls.
Powell"s friend offered to show the staff how to do
it, but was told he couldn"t get off the plane for security purposes.
In the
meantime, the rest of the passengers — including Powell — had to
sit on the runway for another half hour, silently fuming.Nearly half of the
complaints reported to airlines is failure to provide adequate assistance to
people using wheelchairs.
One reason is that passengers in wheelchairs have to
be wheeled onto the plane via an aisle wheelchair, then physically lifted out
and into their seat.
If it"s not done properly, there"s risk of serious
injury.
It happened to spina bifida survivor Mary Dordiesk in 2014 —
she reportedly suffered a broken leg after airline crew forced her leg to bend
in order to get her into her seat." Allen in transit.
(Photo: Jeanne
Allen)"I"ve found huge inconsistencies in how people buckle me into the aisle
chair," says Arizona wheelchair user Jeanne Allen, Founder of
incredibleaccessible.com.
"There have been times attendants haven"t figured
out how to buckle me and I"ve had to hold the safety clip together with my
fingers while they bump me down the aisle towards my seat.""Bathroom barriers
After United Airlines failed to bring him a wheelchair, D"Arcce Neal had no
choice but to crawl off of the plane.
(Photo: NBC News 4)
The reason Neal had
to crawl off the United plane was because he urgently needed to use a bathroom
and didn"t feel that he could wait around for someone to bring him an aisle
chair.
This is, unfortunately, a huge issue for many people who are wheelchair
bound.
Only new wide-body (twin-aisle) aircraft are required to provide
accessible bathrooms, according to the ACAA.
(Most domestic flights are
single-aisle.) As a result, the disabled often have no choice but to hold it
in on a domestic flight, points out Baldwin, since there"s simply no room for
someone else to assist them in the tiny room."Related: Man in Wheelchair
Forced to Crawl Off PlaneEven when there are accessible lavatories, a
seemingly simple procedure can still remain daunting, if not impossible:
"there"s still not enough space to take equipment like a wheelchair in there,"
says Allen.
"I rely on my husband and attendant to pick me up and I just grab
onto the bars.
But it"s so humiliating that usually I just hold it." Landau
agrees, noting she held it on for 14 hours on a recent trip to Israel.
"I
worried about getting dehydrated, but that seemed better than the
alternative," she says.
"I just didn"t see how it was even possible."Clueless
crew Kuusisto and Nira (Photo: Stephen Kuusisto)Stephen Kuusisto, a
professor of disability studies at Syracuse University who is legally blind,
travels frequently for work, always in the company of his faithful guide dog,
Nira.
But last year, when he tried to board a plane, he was stopped by a
flight attendant who informed him the canine — who had all her proper
documentation — couldn"t board since she wasn"t sporting a blue
blanket.""I"m seldom speechless, but standing in the airplane doorway I was
momentarily flummoxed," he says.
Kuusisto tried explaining to her that the dog
didn"t need a blue blanket to come onto the plane, but she refused to
listen.
Exasperated, he sat down in his seat and tucked his dog under his
feet, informing her she needed to check with her supervisor.
She stormed off
the plane — creating a traffic jam of passengers trying to board
— and returned a few minutes later, totally silent.""I"m guessing she
was told it was OK," he says wryly.
"It would have been a lot less of a hassle
for everybody if the airline had trained its flight attendants properly."
Photo: ThinkstockSometimes it"s not just downright ignorance about passengers"
legal rights, it"s downright ignorance, period.
When Landau needs to be lifted
into her airplane seat, she needs to be held a certain way to help keep her
body stable and reduce risk of injury.
But when she tries to explain that to
crew, they often look at her perplexed.""They assume because I"m physically
disabled, I can"t talk and can"t advocate for myself," she
explains.
"Oftentimes, a crew member will ask the person I"m traveling with,
‘can she walk?" And I have to pipe up for myself, ‘No, she can"t
walk, but she can transfer." A few times I"ve been referred to — to my
face — as ‘the wheelchair person." Is it illegal that they are
doing that? No, but it"s dehumanizing and discouraging."Related: Special Needs
Travelers Can Do AnythingKuusisto believes much of the problem could be solved
with more and better training of airline crew members, ranging from ground
crew to flight attendants to pilots themselves.""Even if a large airline such
as United or American offers training to its staff, it"s not enough, because
the companies are subcontracting to regional airlines who may not train staff
effectively when it comes to disability," he explains.
"There"s still a deep
belief in our society that it"s someone else"s job to handle the disabled, so
if there isn"t sufficient training to help counter that, you are going to get
employees who don"t really understand that everyone needs to be treated
equally." What you can do Photo: Thinkstock"If you feel that an airline has
violated your civil rights, you should call the Department of Transportation
to make a formal complaint, says Baldwin.
A spokesperson for the DOT told
World traveling club Travel that all disability-related complaints that the
Department receives are investigated, and if there"s a clear pattern or
practice of violations of the ACAA by a particular carrier, enforcement action
is taken.
(In 2013, for example, the department issued a $1.2 million civil
penalty to one carrier, and in 2011, $2 million to another.)"But these
investigations are cumbersome, and take time.
"The airlines won"t change
unless they"re specifically told by the federal government they have to," adds
Kuusisto.
That"s why he recommends also emailing your United States
representative and Senator, asking them to give money to the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) to start testing wheelchair restrain systems that can be
used safely in airplane cabins.
(You can also sign this link.) One nonprofit,
All Wheels Up, has obtained funding to test these systems: "The FAA is
interested, but they need Congress to release money to them to make this
happen," says the group"s founder, Michelle Irwin, who has an 8-year-old son
in a wheelchair due to spinal muscular atrophy.
Allen and the good guys (Photo: Jeanne Allen)
There are also heartwarming
stories out there.
For every unpleasant flight attendant he encounters,
Kuusisto says he encounters several who are pleasant and cordial.
"I have
pilots who specifically come back to talk to me about their dogs, or flight
attendants who insist that Nira is the nicest passenger they"ve had today," he
says.
One time, while traveling, a connecting flight got cancelled, and "the
whole crew insisted that Nira and I couldn"t sleep in the airport and they got
us a hotel voucher.
I was really touched.""And Allen remembers fondly this
past April, when two crew members hauled her up a flight of stairs to get into
the plane.
"I felt it was above and beyond the call of duty, but they did it
cheerfully, smiling and cracking jokes, and without a complaint," she
says.
"They could have made me feel like a burden, but they really made it
clear to me that it was their pleasure.
That"s the way, frankly, it always
should be." "Let World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Hang out
with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andPinterest.
Check out our original
adventure travel series A Broad Abroad.
Photo: Thinkstock It should have been just a routine business trip for Emily
Landau from New York City to Minnesota, where she was scheduled to speak at a
disability rights conference.
Landau, who has Larsen Syndrome—a genetic
joint and muscle disorder that has left her unable to walk—requires a
wheelchair for transportation.
The crew checked her wheelchair, like they
always do, and escorted her to her seat on the plane via one of airline's
aisle wheelchairs.
My wheelchair is my legs!' They were treating a $50,000
piece of equipment like a missing Samsonite suitcase."  Related: No Limits:
First Quadriplegic Woman Summits Kilimanjaro Emily Landau (Photo: Emily
Landau) Landau's friend pushed her through the airport in the airline's
flimsy aisle chair, a process that was uncomfortable, jarring and took about
45 minutes.."For every claim filed, we believe there are at least 100 other
individuals who experienced the same treatment who don"t bother filing
complaints," says Dara Baldwin, a public policy analyst at the National
Disability Rights Network in Washington, D.C.
Here, World traveling club
uncovers some of the most common issues.Wheelchair woes Attorney Powell
(Photo: Robyn Powell)Disability rights attorney Robyn Powell has flown nine
times over the past year— and seven of those times, her motorized
wheelchair has been broken.
"The airline always pays for it, but sometimes it
takes up to a week to fix, and you have to make do with a loaner wheelchair,
which is virtually useless," she says."She thinks most of the problem is due
to staff not knowing how to load chairs properly.
"One time I knew they were
having trouble with the wheelchair because the pilot announced that it was the
reason the flight couldn"t take off on time," she recalls.
Powell"s friend
offered to show the staff how to do it, but was told he couldn"t get off the
plane for security purposes.
In the meantime, the rest of the passengers
— including Powell — had to sit on the runway for another half
hour, silently fuming.Nearly half of the complaints reported to airlines is
failure to provide adequate assistance to people using wheelchairs.
One reason
is that passengers in wheelchairs have to be wheeled onto the plane via an
aisle wheelchair, then physically lifted out and into their seat.
If it"s not
done properly, there"s risk of serious injury.
It happened to spina bifida
survivor Mary Dordiesk in 2014 — she reportedly suffered a broken leg
after airline crew forced her leg to bend in order to get her into her seat."
Allen in transit.
(Photo: Jeanne Allen)"I"ve found huge inconsistencies in
how people buckle me into the aisle chair," says Arizona wheelchair user
Jeanne Allen, Founder of incredibleaccessible.com.
"There have been times
attendants haven"t figured out how to buckle me and I"ve had to hold the
safety clip together with my fingers while they bump me down the aisle towards
my seat.""Bathroom barriers After United Airlines failed to bring him a
wheelchair, D"Arcce Neal had no choice but to crawl off of the plane.
(Photo:
NBC News 4)
The reason Neal had to crawl off the United plane was because he
urgently needed to use a bathroom and didn"t feel that he could wait around
for someone to bring him an aisle chair.
This is, unfortunately, a huge issue
for many people who are wheelchair bound.
Only new wide-body (twin-aisle)
aircraft are required to provide accessible bathrooms, according to the
ACAA.
(Most domestic flights are single-aisle.) As a result, the disabled
often have no choice but to hold it in on a domestic flight, points out
Baldwin, since there"s simply no room for someone else to assist them in the
tiny room."Related: Man in Wheelchair Forced to Crawl Off PlaneEven when there
are accessible lavatories, a seemingly simple procedure can still remain
daunting, if not impossible: "there"s still not enough space to take equipment
like a wheelchair in there," says Allen.
"I rely on my husband and attendant
to pick me up and I just grab onto the bars.
But it"s so humiliating that
usually I just hold it." Landau agrees, noting she held it on for 14 hours on
a recent trip to Israel.
"I worried about getting dehydrated, but that seemed
better than the alternative," she says.
"I just didn"t see how it was even
possible."Clueless crew Kuusisto and Nira (Photo: Stephen Kuusisto)Stephen
Kuusisto, a professor of disability studies at Syracuse University who is
legally blind, travels frequently for work, always in the company of his
faithful guide dog, Nira.
But last year, when he tried to board a plane, he
was stopped by a flight attendant who informed him the canine — who had
all her proper documentation — couldn"t board since she wasn"t sporting
a blue blanket.""I"m seldom speechless, but standing in the airplane doorway I
was momentarily flummoxed," he says.
Kuusisto tried explaining to her that the
dog didn"t need a blue blanket to come onto the plane, but she refused to
listen.
Exasperated, he sat down in his seat and tucked his dog under his
feet, informing her she needed to check with her supervisor.
She stormed off
the plane — creating a traffic jam of passengers trying to board
— and returned a few minutes later, totally silent.""I"m guessing she
was told it was OK," he says wryly.
"It would have been a lot less of a hassle
for everybody if the airline had trained its flight attendants properly."
Photo: ThinkstockSometimes it"s not just downright ignorance about passengers"
legal rights, it"s downright ignorance, period.
When Landau needs to be lifted
into her airplane seat, she needs to be held a certain way to help keep her
body stable and reduce risk of injury.
But when she tries to explain that to
crew, they often look at her perplexed.""They assume because I"m physically
disabled, I can"t talk and can"t advocate for myself," she
explains.
"Oftentimes, a crew member will ask the person I"m traveling with,
‘can she walk?" And I have to pipe up for myself, ‘No, she can"t
walk, but she can transfer." A few times I"ve been referred to — to my
face — as ‘the wheelchair person." Is it illegal that they are
doing that? No, but it"s dehumanizing and discouraging."Related: Special Needs
Travelers Can Do AnythingKuusisto believes much of the problem could be solved
with more and better training of airline crew members, ranging from ground
crew to flight attendants to pilots themselves.""Even if a large airline such
as United or American offers training to its staff, it"s not enough, because
the companies are subcontracting to regional airlines who may not train staff
effectively when it comes to disability," he explains.
"There"s still a deep
belief in our society that it"s someone else"s job to handle the disabled, so
if there isn"t sufficient training to help counter that, you are going to get
employees who don"t really understand that everyone needs to be treated
equally." What you can do Photo: Thinkstock"If you feel that an airline has
violated your civil rights, you should call the Department of Transportation
to make a formal complaint, says Baldwin.
A spokesperson for the DOT told
World traveling club Travel that all disability-related complaints that the
Department receives are investigated, and if there"s a clear pattern or
practice of violations of the ACAA by a particular carrier, enforcement action
is taken.
(In 2013, for example, the department issued a $1.2 million civil
penalty to one carrier, and in 2011, $2 million to another.)"But these
investigations are cumbersome, and take time.
"The airlines won"t change
unless they"re specifically told by the federal government they have to," adds
Kuusisto.
That"s why he recommends also emailing your United States
representative and Senator, asking them to give money to the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) to start testing wheelchair restrain systems that can be
used safely in airplane cabins.
(You can also sign this link.) One nonprofit,
All Wheels Up, has obtained funding to test these systems: "The FAA is
interested, but they need Congress to release money to them to make this
happen," says the group"s founder, Michelle Irwin, who has an 8-year-old son
in a wheelchair due to spinal muscular atrophy.
Allen and the good guys (Photo: Jeanne Allen)
There are also heartwarming
stories out there.
For every unpleasant flight attendant he encounters,
Kuusisto says he encounters several who are pleasant and cordial.
"I have
pilots who specifically come back to talk to me about their dogs, or flight
attendants who insist that Nira is the nicest passenger they"ve had today," he
says.
One time, while traveling, a connecting flight got cancelled, and "the
whole crew insisted that Nira and I couldn"t sleep in the airport and they got
us a hotel voucher.
I was really touched.""And Allen remembers fondly this
past April, when two crew members hauled her up a flight of stairs to get into
the plane.
"I felt it was above and beyond the call of duty, but they did it
cheerfully, smiling and cracking jokes, and without a complaint," she
says.
"They could have made me feel like a burden, but they really made it
clear to me that it was their pleasure.
That"s the way, frankly, it always
should be." "Let World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Hang out
with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, andPinterest.
Check out our original
adventure travel series A Broad Abroad.
Photo: Thinkstock It should have been
just a routine business trip for Emily Landau from New York City to Minnesota,
where she was scheduled to speak at a disability rights conference.
Landau,
who has Larsen Syndrome—a genetic joint and muscle disorder that has left
her unable to walk—requires a wheelchair for transportation.
The crew
checked her wheelchair, like they always do, and escorted her to her seat on
the plane via one of airline's aisle wheelchairs.
My wheelchair is my
legs!' They were treating a $50,000 piece of equipment like a missing
Samsonite suitcase."  Related: No Limits: First Quadriplegic Woman Summits
Kilimanjaro Emily Landau (Photo: Emily Landau) Landau's friend pushed her
through the airport in the airline's flimsy aisle chair, a process that was
uncomfortable, jarring and took about 45 minutes.

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