For most differently able people, air travel is more accessible than ever before. The air travel industry has come a long way from its dark ages, when people with physical limitations simply could not fly.
However, several million people (yes, you read it right) in the western world alone still find access to air travel too big of a struggle.
According to the Advocacy Group All Wheels Up, there are currently four million wheelchair users in the USA, another four million in the EU and millions more in the rest of the world.
Let’s get one thing right. There is no such thing as a disabled person, but rather people disabled by the environment.
With this concept in mind, two people came up with the simplest of solutions: why not make some room on planes so that people can fly in their own wheelchairs.
Founder of the US-based advocacy group All Wheels Up Michele Erwin and UK based Access to Air Travel Advocate Chris Wood are the two prominent promoters of this simple, yet revolutionary idea.
“My life with children and my son who has special needs has educated me on the curve ball,” Michele recently told me. It is personal awareness of the problems she faced flying with her son Greyson that led her to envision and set the foundations of All Wheels Up in 2011.
The Advocacy group is working with regulators, airlines, airplane manufacturers, and the US Congress to see how people can fly whilst remain in their own wheelchairs.
All Wheels Up are to conduct the first ever crash test of wheelchair restraint straps at an FAA-approved aerospace facility. “A large majority of the work and reports have already been conducted, regarding crash testing wheelchairs,” Michele said. “The FAA would only need to expand on the research already done from Q’straint, whose restraining systems have passed the 20 G crash test, while all aircraft passenger seats have only passed a 16 G crash test."
Leap over the Atlantic and find another resolute Advocate. "Both my children are in electric wheelchairs and they are unable to sit in a normal airplane seat, they both need additional seating (thoracic) support," Chris Wood said.
"Most forms of public or commercial travel by land or sea are easily accessible, but air travel is not." Chris wants airlines to invest in designated wheelchair spaces.
He spent the good part of the past two years campaigning to make air travel fully accessible. His efforts have not fallen on deaf ears.
The UK regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority expressed genuine interest and support for his cause. Later this year, Virgin Atlantic Airways will organize an industry-wide Symposium on the subject.
I asked myself if these guys are hopeless dreamers chasing a chimera and concluded they are not.
Rewind our watches to 70 years ago. Our planet was emerging from the ruins of the World War II. Yet, a handful of visionaries were already pursuing the (then) impossible dream of putting a man on the moon.
Had you said back then men were to go the moon you would have been ridiculed, belittled, maybe even sent to a mental hospital.
I for one embrace the vision set out by the European Commission of accessibility across all means of transport.
Achieving this goal takes visionaries of all kinds. Romain Théret, the CEO of Ozion is a good example.
He is the mind behind a revolutionary airport management software. Just like Michele and Chris, Romain’s idea is simple, yet revolutionary: putting the passenger at the centre of the process, building a virtual house of glass around him so that all stakeholders can be involved in providing the best possible assistance.
It took many years and countless setbacks to put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Michele and Chris face an uphill battle, one they are destined to win thanks to their passionate determination.
I think everyone shares the moral duty to support their cause. In this respect, I can all but commend the Queen Elizabeth Foundation and Graham Race for giving Chris Wood room to promote awareness of his campaign at their very useful Try Before You Fly events.
Building awareness around the groundbreaking work Michele Erwin and Chris Wood are doing is all but essential to keep the momentum going.
Perhaps an easy way for you to support their efforts is to help build awareness by sharing this article with your family and friends. The more, the merrier.
Reduced Mobility Rights supports their cause because we believe the day a person will be able to fly in his or her own wheelchair will be the next giant leap for mankind.
Images courtesy of All Wheels Up, @Flyingdisabled and others