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Disability Activist Dies as a Result of Injuries Sustained After United Airlines Destroyed Her Wheelchair

Original Article

It’s important to remember that disability in this day and age is still a problem. For all of the progress we’ve made on ensuring people with disabilities have the same rights and dignity of non-disabled persons.


The real outrage here, for me, was the sheer callousness of United Airlines. One can understand that a company would want to deny responsibility for ruining such a pricey and important piece of equipment that belonged to a customer. $30,000 might be chump change for them, but it’s still not easy money to part with, and sets a precedent for future claims by other passengers which could add up to significant amounts over time.

In the system of greed that Capitalism promotes, what United Airlines did makes perfect business sense. Protect the brand, the bottom-line, and obstruct every inch of the way.

However, from the perspective of humanity, United Airlines is morally bankrupt. Their actions are directly linkable to Figueroa’s death. Even if her death is only indirectly a result of their actions, it can be linked, and, more importantly, was preventable.

Flying is Inaccessible

The bottom-line is that, for most people, flying remains very inaccessible. From the experience of getting through security at an airport, to boarding and seating, flying isn’t exactly fun for anyone. But, discomfort aside, flying is still flat-out inaccessible for many people. If I were in Figueroa’s shoes, I’m not sure I would have chosen to fly.

I’m not Figueroa, though, and it’s certainly not my place to question why she chose to fly. She should have been able to. And she should have been able to trust that when she chose to fly, that her property would be treated with the care it deserved.

Flying shouldn’t be inaccessible.

The Solution?

There’s no easy solution, that much is clear.

However, whether or not a solution is easy shouldn’t be the barrier between whether or not its taken. The law of the country is that as long as the burden for accessibility isn’t unreasonable, the expectation is that the costs and responsibility of ensuring that accessibility should fall on the business.

I’m sure that United Airlines could have found a way to store Figueroa’s wheelchair in a manner that would have prevented the damage it took. So, even though flying is often inaccessible to many, and while I’m not sure I would trust airlines enough were I in her shoes, the fact of the matter is that it was and is possible for someone like Figueroa to fly. It’s an expectation she had every right and reason to believe in and yet the system failed her.

Ultimately, universal access design standards should pave our way forward. Newer airplanes should be designed and constructed such that someone with a custom wheelchair like Figueroa’s would be able to bring their wheelchair on the plane and use it like anyone else might use a seat offered by the airline.

Until universal design achieves that level, users of such devices should be treated with thought and care by the airlines to ensure that devices which are so fundamentally important to their lives are protected.

We need to be human, and we need our companies to be human.

End For-Profit and replace it with For-People. Only then will things truly become accessible.

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