Paralympic medalist highlights need to improve air travel for people with disabilities

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — From a lack of accessible bathrooms to difficulty with transferring mobility equipment, air travel can present unique challenges for people with disabilities.

This week members of a House subcommittee held a hearing focused on the challenges for airline passengers with disabilities and efforts underway to improve their flying experience.

Matt Scott, a three-time Paralympic medalist in basketball, testified about how his wheelchairs empower him.

Scott said he has one custom wheelchair for basketball and another one he uses daily.

“My wheelchair makes me feel strong,” said Scott. “My wheelchair makes me feel independent. My wheelchair makes me feel whole.”

Scott said when he travels for games, he has run into challenges on airplanes.

“While traveling for competitions on numerous occasions, I have reached my destination and received my wheelchair mishandled, neglected, damaged, and sometimes destroyed beyond repair,” said Scott.

Scott is not alone.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Department of Transportation received 195 disability-related complaints in just a month of August.

“Unfortunately, the air travel experience for passengers with disabilities, particularly for wheelchair users, is at best frustrating and at worst unsafe,” said Heather Ansley, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “In a survey completed last December, one passenger said that quote I am tired of getting dropped when transferring from my chair to the transfer chair on an airplane.”

Vice President and Associate General Counsel for Airlines for America Graham Keithley said the industry is working to make improvements.

“U.S. airlines are the first to acknowledge that even one incident that jeopardizes the safety of passengers with disabilities is unacceptable,” said Keithley. “Accessibility services training will be improved for all frontline employees. While some improvements will take time, our members are committed to making progress and taking action to implement these commitments.”

For travelers like Scott, the need to ensure air travel is safe and accessible for all passengers is urgent.

“I consider my wheelchair to be an extension of my body,” said Scott. “These items cannot just simply be replaced.”