Wheelchair Users Face Accessibility Shortfalls When Traveling

Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2019 - 12:27pm
Updated: Thursday, August 8, 2019 - 12:51pm
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LAUREN GILGER: July marked the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and while the nation has come a long way in that time, people who use wheelchairs still put up with a variety of accessibility shortfalls. Last year, Congress adopted a rule in the FAA Reauthorization Act that sought to shine a light on one of those problem areas, requiring airlines to track and report how many wheelchairs and scooters they mishandle each month. Those reports have since revealed the scale of the problem, with more than 2,000 wheelchairs or scooters mishandled in the first quarter of this year. Phil Pangrazio is the president and CEO of Ability360 and he's no stranger to the issue. Good morning Phil.

PHIL PANGRAZIO: Good morning.

GILGER: So, you say that this has improved over the years, right?

PANGRAZIO: Yeah, it has improved over the years. I think the airlines have really; number one, they know how much it's costing them. You know, this is a huge bill for them. Every time a wheelchair is damaged and, you know, they're obligated to pay for the repair costs. So, they've made a great effort at improving it but it still happens. And, I've heard a lot of those horror stories over the years when it does happen to someone and especially people who use power wheelchairs. If you end up at your destination and your power wheelchair doesn't work, that's a big problem for you.

GILGER: Has your chair ever been mishandled, Phil?

PANGRAZIO: You know, it's interesting, I've been flying for nearly 40 years. I've probably flown 500 times over those many years and I've had very few incidences of it. It has happened, nothing has been real major. So, I consider myself pretty lucky in that regard.

GILGER: Yeah, and give us a sense of what a damaged or missing chair can mean for folks who use them. Like, why is it so important that these things arrive in one piece?

PANGRAZIO: Well, it's because that everybody's chair is usually custom designed for them. The measurements are exact and so that, not being in the chair that's designed for you would be very difficult. So, if you were able to get a loaner wheelchair... in the city that you're in, you know, it's unlikely it's going to fit you very well and that can cause you all kinds of complications during your trip. So, you know, the wheelchairs are like a part of your body. It's an extension of your body and so, it's just not as easy to get some loaner chair from some other place.

GILGER: I wonder if... it also might just discourage people who use wheelchairs from traveling and saying, you know, this is too risky or just too hard.

PANGRAZIO: Oh it does, I mean, it definitely does. I mean, people are always reluctant to fly. Folks with disabilities are... reluctant to fly because, you know, they're worried about that and what will happen if they get there and something is damaged. So, air travel is bad enough without worrying about your wheelchair being damaged, going through all the other, you know, the security and the pat downs and it is frustrating. Traveling is never easy and this only leads to discouragement.

GILGER: So, the last question then, Phil, is... Congress now requiring airlines to track the issue; I mean has that helped mitigate it at all? Are you seeing any improvements?

PANGRAZIO: That's a good question. I, you know I haven't really heard a whole lot about the statistics that are coming from that, from the airlines and how that compares to, you know, prior years. So, I don't know if it's making a big difference yet or not, hopefully it will.

GILGER: All right, that's Phil Pangrazio the president and CEO of Ability360. Phil, thank you for joining us to talk about this.

PANGRAZIO: My pleasure, thanks for having me.


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