Recently, Daniel Lee, a Malaysian Paralympian and motivational speaker with brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis Imperfecta) shared on his social media profile of his horrible experience of being mistreated by an airline manager prior to boarding his flight back from Cairo.
Despite having limited ability to walk, Daniel is self-sufficient and has been travelling alone for almost 10 years.
He has always done this with the aid of a cabin wheelchair during flights, however, this time, the manager insisted that their airline’s policy stated that Daniel needed a travel companion if he wanted a cabin wheelchair inflight.
The battle for a cabin wheelchair
According to Daniel, the manager first asked him if he can walk on his own.
“If he can, the cabin crew can assist him. If he cannot, he can only get an inflight cabin wheelchair if he has a travel companion.”
“I came to Egypt alone. How am I going to find a companion to go back? What do I do now?” Daniel asked the manager who responded with, “I’m presenting the question back to you. What will you do?”
Then, the manager added, “As long as a PWD can meet their own needs.” and the following interaction ensued.
Daniel: So I can get a cabin chair as long as I can take care of myself?
Daniel: If I can move on my own with the cabin chair can I get it?
Manager: No, they wont give you a cabin chair
Enraged by these conditions, Daniel then posed a question to the manager, “Does this mean that a PWD has no right to travel alone?”
The manager responded with, “Not ALL disabilities! Someone who’s deaf can.”
Not being able to fly at all
Tired of arguing with the manager, Daniel then said that he is willing to forgo the wheelchair as long as he can get onboard. “Worst case, I’ll crawl to the lavatory.”
“No, you can’t crawl either,” the manager retorted.
“Okay, I’ll just walk then. It doesn’t matter anymore. I just want to get home,” Daniel said in exasperation.
But the manager then said that they still cannot decide if they can let Daniel onboard as it “may not be safe” for him.
Thankfully, Daniel was able to board his flight slightly before the gate closed.
An insensitive manager
In his posts, Daniel also talked about how dismissive and insensitive the manager was being.
“He put on a friendly demeanor and seemed externally polite. But ultimately, I wasn’t truly being listened to.”
“When I said he didn’t understand my disability, he quickly retorted with ‘I do!’ before I could even tell him what it was. He simply asked if I could walk or not,” explained Daniel.
At one point, the manager even looked at Daniel’s legs, pointed out that he could move them and gestured weirdly.
“It gave me the feeling that (he thought) I should be able to walk just because my legs could move.”
A horrible experience
Daniel’s horrible experience has shone light on policies such as that of the airline’s that is non-inclusive and discriminatory to PWDs.
“It’s so weird that the cabin crew is allowed to assist me if I walked (even with difficulty) but NOT with a cabin chair. But they wont give me a chair even if I push myself, nor do they allow me to crawl,” asked Daniel.
“Is the prerequisite to travelling safe, the ability to walk?”
Evidently, more sensitivity to and awareness on the PWD community is needed to create a more inclusive and non-discriminatory society.