Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has been advocating for accessibility throughout every aspect of life since our founding days
By Charles Brown
When our founders were returning from war with their injuries and dysfunction, they were advocating for the same health care and treatments as every other soldier. This included going home to their families and living in their own homes. It was also important to be able to get out into the community and live normal lives.
Who thought it would take 40 years of conversation and numerous articles in magazines, newspapers and on the radio and TV to start seeing true inclusion? And I’m not even talking about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
PVA was founded on the grounds of advocacy in 1946, and in 1986 after all the years of asking, pushing and even demanding, that first hurdle was defeated. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was passed by Congress, and it’s now a way of life for those with disabilities.
Unfortunately, from the beginning of the ACAA, there was pushback. Early challenges in the courts set portions of the new law to the side because it would create an undue burden on the airlines — and there it would sit.
If you’ve had the pleasure of flying, then you know how convenient and expedient it is for work or leisure. It has become a very important way of life, and complete inclusion is necessary for everyone. Unfortunately, while aircraft and their interiors have been modernized, aircraft accessibility has not.
The aisles are actually a little smaller now, the space for seating is smaller and the bathroom is basically the same size. Don’t get me wrong, some aircraft have been fitted with accessible restrooms, but getting to them is another story.
The ADA was signed into law in 1990. With its passing and implementation, everyday life has improved for everyone. Believe me when I say that those “expensive” curb cuts, building entrances or accessible bathrooms are benefiting everyone in some part of their lives.
Even public transportation has improved greatly. Buses are built with lower floors, making getting onto them easier for all. Trains have accessible seating for those in wheelchairs and bathrooms you can use “normally.”
I hope I’m making my point. Life has generally gotten better for everyone when true inclusion happens. That’s why I’m asking you for your assistance now. It doesn’t matter whether you have a disability. It doesn’t matter whether you travel by airplane. Your help is needed.
I’m asking you reach out to your Congress members and ask them to sign and pass the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act. It would make air travel safer, more accessible and give dignity back to everyone traveling.
The amendments ask the airlines to update their aircraft to include wider aisles for wheelchair access and for us to be able to fly in our wheelchairs so we don’t have to be placed on the narrow aisle chairs and risk injury caused by them or the transfers.
While we’re subject to injuries from those chairs and transfers, our wheelchairs and other medical devices are put in the cargo hold — often being damaged or destroyed. That literally means our lives are put on hold, with lost wages or lost time with family and friends while waiting on repairs or a whole new device. I can’t stress enough how much of our lives are lost waiting for our personal equipment to be returned to normal function.
We’re also asking for the bathrooms on aircraft to be made large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. The last piece is for the private right of action to be returned: the ability to sue the airline if it is negligent and causes damage to us and our equipment.
In the military, it’s a “call to arms.” Here, it’s a “call to action.” It’s going to take everyone who reads this, family and friends to help.
Please go to pva.org/airtravel and sign the petition. Look at the resources presented, and take a moment to ask our government to make air travel safe and completely inclusive.