Wheelchair damage is a frequent risk for disabled travelers


(BPT) - Does the idea of holiday travel make you feel like a Scrooge? Booking a flight, traversing through a packed airport and getting to the gate on time are just a few things that can cause stress. Then there's using those tiny on-board bathrooms, and hoping you get your luggage back in one piece.

Holiday travel is difficult for the average person, but now imagine doing all this in a wheelchair.

“Problems for travelers with disabilities are extremely common,” says Shaun Castle, a service-disabled U.S. Army veteran and deputy executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “By far, the number one complaint that we receive from our members about any issue, is about the problems with air travel.”

Castle has experienced the difficulties firsthand. He has had his wheelchair bent, cracked and even lost in separate incidents.

“These are more than minor inconveniences,” Castle says. “If my wheelchair is damaged, it may mean I am stranded until I can get it repaired.”

But things could be getting better soon for Castle and tens of thousands of travelers with disabilities with the signing of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 302) on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 by President Donald Trump.

The passage of H.R. 302 provides a ‘bill of rights’ and an advisory panel for passengers with disabilities, as well as revised training and procedures for TSA screenings for people with disabilities.

Paralyzed Veterans of America calls it a matter of basic civil rights, and has been a vocal advocate for safer trips for all travelers with disabilities. The congressionally chartered veteran’s service organization even challenged the Department of Transportation in court to move forward with requirements for accessible bathrooms on single-aisle planes.

Improvements could come as early as this year, but in the meantime, there are some things travelers with disabilities can do to reduce risks, especially during the busy holiday season. Paralyzed Veterans of America recommends not only giving verbal instructions for folding and storing wheelchairs or scooters, but attaching written information to the equipment as well. Many airlines have written forms online for passengers to complete. The group also says to arrive at least two hours early for a flight, to take advantage of pre-boarding.

"This new bill recognizing the rights of travelers with disabilities is a huge move forward, but there's more work to do," says Castle. "Paralyzed Veterans of America will continue to work toward accessibility for all Americans with disabilities."

To learn more about these issues and how Paralyzed Veterans of America is an advocate for accessible public spaces and disability rights, visit pva.org.