Aviation

On a mission to make airplanes accessible to all

Isabella Tipping

On a recent trip, I realized that not everyone shares my excitement for plane travel. A few rows from us, a man with impaired mobility was being harnessed into a seat and began to slip out of the chair.

Watching how difficult it was for the airport staff to try to maneuver him back into his seat made me realize how much people with significant disability must dread air travel.  It was a terrible thing to witness his distress; he was painfully aware of how undignified it looked and how powerless he was to help himself. Sadly the process drew comments from a number of passengers- a few even stood up so they could watch. I could only imagine how I would feel if I were in his shoes but good health is promised to no one, so what he was going through could easily happened to any one of us.

I guess I had never thought about it before, but I didn’t know aeroplanes were the only form of public transport, which does not allow people to travel in their own modified wheelchair. I also didn’t know that in order for a person with significant need to fly, they had to be lifted into a standard seat by airport staff and harnessed in place.  The whole process of transferring the passenger into a standard seat comes with significant risk. There is the risk of the passenger sustain an injury in the transfer, a risk of developing pressure sores from sitting in a seat not designed for their needs as well as a risk of the airport staff sustaining an injury trying to manoeuvre the passenger into the seat. In this world so adverse to risk, the whole process just seems very retro.

My Uncle Denzil was injured in a diving accident- the lives of him and his whole family changed in an instant. He wants to travel to South Africa to see his ageing father but he is fearful of the journey. He is afraid of risking injury to himself by not being able to travel in his own chair and he is additionally concerned that his vital and expensive piece of equipment will be damaged or lost.

Booking a holiday should be fun, not stressful. I have set up a Change.org petition to highlight this serious issue and ask the major airlines if they would consider, when they upgrade their planes, to equip them with spaces, which allow modified chairs to be locked into place https://www.change.org/p/the-time-has-come-for-inclusive-air-travel-for-people-with-disability. If the airlines do not want to lose the sale of a seat in case it isn’t needed, would they design a seat, which can be removed to allow motorized wheelchairs to be locked in when needed?

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will be rolled out across the country by 2018. To people with disability, this will mean they will finally have the choice and control to live the life they choose to live. For many people with disability, it will mean for the first time in their lives they will be making their decisions on how they want to be supported.  This is truly life changing for so many people and will allow them to do things they may never had the opportunity to experience before- like travel!

In NSW alone there is an expectation that 145,000 people will take up the scheme as it reaches full implementation in 2018. Through the NDIS, the world of travel will potentially become available to thousands of people who may have never been able to travel before. It is an exciting time for people with disability and equally exciting for the travel industry as whole. With the opportunities comes the difficulty of ensuring that, now they can afford to travel, their travel needs can be safely met.

One of the most popular forms of holiday for people with disability is Cruises, because the cruise industry understands inclusion. I recently went on a Carnival Cruise and saw first hand how well facilitated their ships are for people with disability. I spoke to a man in a wheelchair that was enjoying the cruise with his family, he told me they cruise each year because every area on the ship is accessible and he feels as included as everyone else.

But the reality is there are some amazing places in the world that are not accessible by water.

It has been difficult getting my message out there and I honestly don’t understand why. I have reached out to people who I know have become outraged when they feel someone’s rights have been compromised and become instantly vocal to enact change- and I admire them for their passion. But somehow they lack that same passion to fight for the rights of people with disability; but If we fight for equal rights, we need to fight for equal rights for everyone otherwise we lack integrity. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a world where everyone is included. I want to see everyone have the same access to all the amazing things this world has to offer and I believe that any form of discrimination or inequality is bad for your soul.

Sir Richard Branson, if anyone has the passion and power to make change, it is you. Please enact change to make life fair and equitable for everyone and become the world’s first “Inclusive” airline.

I am not an engineer, nor am I the head of a billion dollar corporation: I don’t have the answers on how things can be done, or why they haven’t been done. I am a 13-year-old girl who will fight for social change and I hope you can support me by signing my petition because unless I have the numbers behind me, no one will feel the pressure to respond. All I ask is for the major airlines to please consider becoming the world’s first “Inclusive” airline so the people who are most vulnerable in life can enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

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