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Disability Community Slams Delta After Ad Features Children in Wheelchairs

Delta airlines posted a video on social media showing how it “makes the world smaller” for everyone, including children with disabilities. The disability community, however, swiftly called out how Delta and other airlines often make travel harder for people with disabilities, especially wheelchair users, an issue Delta said it is working to resolve.

On Aug. 27, Delta posted a video featuring interviews about travel with several kids with disabilities, including several who use wheelchairs. The children in the clip shared where they would like to travel, including to see the country their parents are from, to visit relatives and to see some popular destinations like Paris or the beaches of Australia.

“At Delta, we want to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to experience what’s out there,” text in the video reads. “That’s why we work with employees, our customers and disability advocates every day to make to make travel more accessible because we believe in making the world a smaller place by leveling the skies for everyone.”

The disability community, however, jumped in the comments of the video on social media to highlight how Delta (and airlines across the board) often make it more difficult for people with disabilities to travel. Disability advocates called out damaged wheelchairs, difficulty with airline staff when asking for accommodations and trouble getting a response from the airline when a wheelchair is damaged.

Regulations that went into effect in December 2018 now require airlines to track their mishandling of wheelchairs and scooters, including incidents such as damage or chairs missing the appropriate connecting flight. The Department of Transportation report for June indicates Delta managed the most wheelchairs compared to the other airlines tracked. Of the 21,260 wheelchairs or scooters entrusted to Delta, 190 (or 0.89%) were mishandled that month.

While damaging “only” 190 wheelchairs out of more than 20,000 may seem minor, for people with physical disabilities, being without their wheelchair is devastating. Karin Willison, The Mighty’s disability editor, explained why in her article, “New Report Shows Airlines Break 25 Wheelchairs Every Day“:

If our wheelchairs are broken, it’s the equivalent of breaking our bodies; we’ll be stuck in bed without them. They have custom seating made for our unique sizes and physical limitations. There’s no wheelchair corner store where you can pick up a replacement at 3 a.m. Getting even standard replacement parts can take weeks, and those parts can cost thousands of dollars. It’s difficult to get insurance to cover repairs under the best of circumstances, and if an airline breaks a wheelchair, the insurance company will almost certainly expect them to pay. If the airline denies responsibility, you end up with two corporations arguing with each other, all the while leaving you trapped without mobility.

Delta said it is aware of many of the issues people with disabilities raised. The airline said it is taking steps to make air travel easier for people with disabilities. Its disability-centric video was one way Delta wanted to show its commitment to the disability community, along with other initiatives to make improvements. A Delta spokesperson told The Mighty:

On our journey of progress to improve the travel space for people with disabilities, Delta currently ranks as one of the top U.S. network carriers for customer transporting assistive devices. We are laser-focused on improving the travel experience for all of our customers, which includes improving the way we handle assistive devices. That looks like partnering with our Advisory Board on Disability, working with our dedicated wheelchair damage-reduction working group, and training to Delta employees to learn best practices for handling, maneuvering and accepting devices to name a few examples.

While we are not yet where we’d like to be, we recognize the power in representation, and importance of reflecting the diversity of our employees and customers in our creative media. Our path forward is one of continued improvement, and we strive to create inclusion through our content as we continue to get better.

Delta also provides a printable online form you can attach to your chair or scooter with handling instructions, though it’s up to Delta to make sure staff are trained to follow the instructions. All the children featured in its promotional video were given tickets to travel to their dream destinations.

Despite work toward improvements, as of right now, airline travel for people with disabilities is stressful and difficult, and many still avoid it when they can. Companies such as All Wheels Up started crash-testing wheelchair restraint systems so people with disabilities can stay on their chairs in-flight. Yet sweeping changes for wheelchair users and others with disabilities in the sky are still far on the horizon.

Header image via Delta