You will find media coverage and 3rd party authors from sources other than CCDC referencing CCDC, its members, staff, and volunteers.
By Ed Sealover Reporter, Denver Business Journal,
DENVER — Josh Winkler became paralyzed below the waist at age 17, but that didn’t stop him from getting a mechanical engineering degree in college and working for a NASCAR team until the Great Recession hit. He then launched his own company, Cripple Concepts, which makes a variety of aides for the wheelchair-bound, including joystick knobs for movement that don’t fall off and USB chargers that allow electric-wheelchair users to charge their phones without losing use of their mobility device. Continue reading “Colorado bill would allow disabled company owners to keep working”
By JOHN AGUILAR | firstname.lastname@example.org | The Denver Post PUBLISHED: February 18, 2020 at 8:31 p.m. | UPDATED: February 18, 2020 at 8:42 p.m.
Legislation that would tighten state oversight of the troubled Regional Transportation District got its first hearing in front of lawmakers Tuesday, and the focus was squarely on how well the metro area’s disabled community is being served by transit. Continue reading “Senate committee hearing on RTD oversight bill shines a light on services for disabled riders”
Joey Bunch, Colorado Politics, Feb 19, 2020, as published in coloradopolitics.com
From the American Diabetes Association to the Young Invincibles, more than two dozen Colorado groups signed on to a letter urging state lawmakers to support a public option insurance program to increase competition and, ideally, lower premiums and other health care costs.
The letter dated Jan. 22, provided to Colorado Politics Tuesday, speaks of a “true crisis” in every corner of the state and urges the General Assembly to deliver affordability, transparency and access to care through the insurance marketplace.
DENVER (CBS4) – A transit system plagued with issues has caught the attention of state lawmakers. An ongoing driver shortage and hundreds of delayed and canceled routes within RTD prompted the introduction of a bill that would change how the agency operates.
Continue reading this article and watch the video at https://denver.cbslocal.com/2020/01/29/rtd-board-members-disabilities/ By Karen Morfitt,
The aim is to reduce Medicaid fraud by requiring therapists, respite workers and nurses to log in and verify their location when they visit someone’s home to provide care. But backlash, especially from the parents of children with disabilities, has been fierce.
“We’re disabled, not criminals!” shouts one petition. Continue reading “Medicaid law forcing caregivers to be tracked by GPS inspires privacy backlash from Colorado’s disabled community”
DENVER — The worst of the storm may be over here in Colorado, but it’s leaving behind some icy obstacles for people who are disabled in the Denver metro.
Jaime Lewis knew the storm would leave him stranded for a couple days.
“You hope that you have your refrigerator full and have enough activities at home to keep you busy,” Lewis said.
Lewis is part of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. They work specifically on improving transit policies. On Saturday, he pointed out several icy areas along the sidewalk and crosswalk near 12th and Broadway where he said it would be too difficult to navigate in his wheelchair.
Lewis says he didn’t expect the sidewalks to be this bad four days after the worst of the storm hit the area.
He says there’s still parts of the sidewalk that have made it difficult to run errands, and even get to work.
“I tried to get out yesterday and go down Broadway, and had to be helped by three Samaritans on three separate occasions, because I kept getting stuck,” Lewis said.
“I guess one of the biggest disappointments is when I did enter one of the businesses and asked them why they hadn’t shoveled, I was told it wasn’t their job. So definitely the city is not communicating very well to businesses what their responsibilities are,” he added.
Adjacent property owners are responsible for clearing their sidewalks. Residents have 24 hours after the snow stops, and businesses have 4 hours.
An inspector will issue a warning first—but if they come back, and the snow is still not shoveled, they can issue a $150 fine.
“Sometimes, people will shovel the snow out of the sidewalks, but then they’ll leave all the snow on the curb ramps. And the adjacent property owner is responsible for the curb ramp, too,” said Denver City Council Member Chris Hinds.
Hinds spoke by phone from a local hospital Saturday night after his wheelchair got stuck on a sidewalk Monday night while heading home from a city council meeting.
He was admitted to the ER with a high fever Friday night.
“As it gets colder and wetter, the battery doesn’t hold as much charge. Also trying to get over the snow that was there, over the hills and the terrain, that used up more of the charge,” Hinds sai.
At the time, the property owner wouldn’t have been required to shovel the sidewalk—but Hinds says it still illustrates the importance of efficient snow removal.
“I had a 102.9 fever, and I trace it back to that 45 minutes that I was just sitting there, stranded on the sidewalk,” Hinds said.
Lewis says for some areas, it’s too late to do anything now.
“When you hear excuses, ‘it’s hard ice now.’ Well, you should have shoveled it when you had the chance to,” Lewis said.
He’s hoping the community will be more mindful during Colorado’s next storm.
“It really has to start with the residents having pride. And then the city needs to enforce the rules as they’re stated,” Lewis said.
DENVER, CO, November 12, 2019 … The number of reported hate crimes in Colorado increased by 16 percent between 2017 and 2018 while the number of reported cases nationwide slightly decreased, according to the FBI’s annual hate crime report released today.
In its annual Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) report, the FBI found that total hate crimes decreased nationwide slightly in 2018 after three consecutive years of increases. The agency reported 7,120 total hate crimes in 2018, compared to 7,175 in 2017. Race-based hate crimes were once again the most common type of hate crime. Nearly 50 percent of race-based hate crimes were directed against African-Americans. Hate crimes directed at LGBTQ individuals increased by almost six percent, including a significant 42 percent increase in crimes directed against transgender individuals. Anti-Hispanic hate crimes increased 14 percent, the third straight year of increased reporting. While religion-based hate crimes decreased by eight percent from 2017, nearly 60 percent of hate crime attacks were targeted against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018.
In Colorado, there were 123 reported hate crimes in 2018 compared to 106 reported incidents in 2017. Last year in Colorado, the FBI documented 78 crimes based on race/ethnicity/national origin, 24 based on sexual orientation, 16 based on religion, three based on gender-identity and two based on disability. Hate crimes directed at individuals based on their race, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability all increased from 2017 to 2018 in the state, according to the report.
A diverse group of community partners called the Colorado Coalition Against Hate (formerly Mountain States Against Hate; full list below) today said more must be done to address the disturbing trend of increased hate crimes and incidents in Colorado. The coalition was formed in 2017 to counter hate crimes in Colorado by educating the public about hate crimes and partnering with law enforcement to improve incident response and reporting.
Coalition partner statements:
Scott Levin, Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region:
“It is intolerable that Jews and Jewish institutions continue to experience the greatest number of religion-based hate crime attacks in Colorado and across the country. A little more than a week ago, the FBI thwarted a white supremacist’s plot to attack a Pueblo synagogue and a small band of white supremacists distributed anti-Semitic propaganda in Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins. It is clear that anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. ADL will continue to do all it can to defend Jews and all victims of hate and bigotry.”
Rex Fuller, CEO, The Center on Colfax:
“As we come closer to Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, The Center on Colfax, Colorado’s LGBTQ community Center, would like to express our disappointment about the lack of reporting on bias-motivated crimes targeting the transgender community. In the past year, there have been 28 reported murders of transgender people in the United States. We at The Center on Colfax find it hard to believe that none of those murders would be considered bias motivated. In addition to the national issue of lack of reporting, we have witnessed a significant increase of bias-motivated incidents targeting the LGBTQ community locally. We call on all public safety agencies to do better and start including gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation in their hate crime and bias-motivated incident policies, from investigation to survivor services to reporting.”
Rev. Amanda Henderson, Executive Director, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado:
“We are saddened to read about the 16% increase in hate crimes and incidents of hate in Colorado. The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado stands against any and all incidents of hate in Colorado and around the United States. We believe in, and will defend, the dignity and worth of all people regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration or housing status, or any other characteristic. Hate has no place in our society. We are committed to bringing people together across our differences to work each day for healing and justice.”
Dilpreet Jammu, Executive Director, Colorado Sikhs:
“The 2018 Hate Crime Report is a stark reminder that Colorado is not immune to hate or to hateful rhetoric. The numbers are understated. There are individuals, and groups, in our state that are doing needless harm to so many and wasting precious time and resources. Imagine the wealth we could generate if we eliminated the negative energy and divisions created by some of our leaders, and instead came together as one human race, with a focus on taking care of each other, with compassion to ‘the other’, as is taught by our many traditions and religions. There would be peace and safety for all.”
Barbara Grove Jones, President, NAACP Aurora Colorado Branch:
“Hate crimes against people of color are nearly 60% of the U.S. total with 45% of those directed at African Americans and 13% targeting Hispanics/Latinos. A significant percentage are violent crimes. The trends of these cowardly acts nationwide are traditional with prior years, consistent with those we see in Aurora, and sadly indicative of the times. We continue to fight against this scourge through enforcement, training, victim support and improved reporting with our partners in the Coalition and law enforcement.”
Mardi Moore, Executive Director, Out Boulder County:
“These statistics bear out what we know to be true in Boulder County and our surrounding area. Based upon the climate and this sad reality, our ongoing work with law enforcement and our District Attorney’s Office continues. Our LGBTQ community is resilient, and we will continue our work with increased resolve.”
Rachel Nielsen, Director, Colorado Resilience Collaborative:
“Despite coordinated efforts to prevent hate crimes, understand the problem in Colorado, and provide support for survivors, we are still experiencing an increase in violence. It is difficult to meet the criteria for a hate crime, so many additional incidents of harassment, discrimination, and hate speech are not even reflected in these numbers. This should be a wake-up call to Colorado.”
Daniel Ramos, Executive Director, One Colorado:
“Hate crimes are real and they are on the rise. Far too often, we hear stories of people in this state that feel unwelcome, unsafe, and targeted because of the color of their skin, who they love, how they identify, or how they worship. Today’s report validates the heightened concerns of hate in our communities and highlights the challenges ahead to address this important issue.”
Julie Reiskin, Executive Director, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition:
“We have learned from history that hate does not work with democracy. Hate is based on fears, on a belief that people who are ‘other’ are somehow less than human. Hate goes against the values that many of us hold dear. Hate does not solve problems. Martin Luther King said, ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic.’ It is our duty as social justice advocates to combat hate. We do this by showing the love we all have inside us and using the power we can amass by joining together and demanding enforcement of existing laws that give every person within our borders basic human and civil rights.”
Colorado Coalition Against Hate partner organizations:
Law Enforcement Partners:
Nearly three decades after a landmark federal law mandated that public facilities be made equally accessible to those with disabilities, there are still thousands of public places in Colorado Springs and El Paso County that don’t comply and no clear plan to fix most of them.
City and county officials have touted their recent efforts to bring public spaces in line with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by adding curb ramps, re-striping parking lots to include more accessible spaces and making other adjustments. From 2016 through the end of next year, Colorado Springs’ investment in accessibility is expected to exceed $9 million, according to data provided by the city.
More improvements are in the works, they say.
“Thirty years ought to be enough, you would think,” said Drew Wills, a paraplegic who is on the board of directors for The Independence Center, a Springs-based nonprofit that helps support people with disabilities.
He sees the city and county’s recent efforts as an attempt to appease federal regulators and forestall future legal troubles. It’s an already-late response that’s expected to unfold gradually — “when people who are having barrier problems and access problems need it now,” he said.
“You’re in a difficult position of saying (to the city and county), ‘We appreciate what you’re doing.’ And we do — but come on.”
Barriers, by the numbers
Just last month, the county unveiled a draft of its “transition plan,” a document that all local governments with 50 or more employees were required to complete by early January 1993 under the ADA.
The city is working on an overhaul of a similar plan that was created in the early 90s and hasn’t been updated in years.
The documents and related facility assessments provide a window into the scale of the city and county’s accessibility woes.
Officials have identified more than 3,500 ADA violations that would cost upwards of $4 million to fix, according to data from the city and county. Those barriers range from counters that are too high and restroom stalls that are too narrow to uneven sidewalks and walkways.
That number of violations will undoubtedly grow, as will the price tag on fixing them.
The city hasn’t yet released numbers on the obstacles that people with disabilities face when they travel through the Colorado Springs airport, visit more than 160 local parks or use Mountain Metropolitan Transit to get around.
And the county still has roughly 20 more buildings, trails and open spaces to assess.
Plus, there’s roughly 2,400 miles of sidewalk and 30,000 pedestrian ramps in the city, — and more on the county side — that must be compliant.
So far, the city has assessed about 40% of those ramps, and found that as much as 90% of those surveyed do not meet the ADA’s technical requirements, Colorado Springs Public Works Director Travis Easton said in an email.
Many of the flawed ramps were built decades ago along roads that haven’t been touched since the ADA was passed, Easton said.
The transition plan documents offer only a rough timeline of when improvements might be completed.
The Colorado Springs plan states that most barriers are set to be removed on 1- to 10-year timelines. The county expects that “overall compliance is possible in 20 years.”
But those schedules hinge on funding availability, both plans note.
“This is a plan to get to a transition plan. It’s not the transition plan,” Patricia Yeager, The Independence Center’s CEO, said of the county draft. “They have a lot of work yet to do.”
Allegations lead to change
Colorado Springs faces mounting legal pressure over accessibility issues.
The city agreed in August to a $22,500 payout to Richard Muszynski, who alleged in a lawsuit filed in El Paso County District Court that city sidewalks were blocked and curb ramps were inaccessible. These were obstacles for his child, who has a disability.
The city also agreed to repair sidewalks, install curb ramps and the crackdown on walkway obstructions in the Stetson Hills neighborhood. Under the terms of the settlement, though, Colorado Springs didn’t admit liability for Muszynski’s claims.
The payout comes on the heels of two other ADA-related city settlements within six months of one another.
Lawsuits and legal threats are some of the few ways that advocates for people with disabilities have been successful in getting governments to resolve accessibility problems, experts say.
“The issue with the ADA is it takes a lawsuit to enforce it. There’s no ADA police,” Yeager said.
Colorado Springs must install more than 15,000 curb ramps over the next 14 years under a settlement reached in response to a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver in March.
Last September, a lawsuit similar to Musynski’s case ended in a settlement that was perhaps the most symbolic victory in recent years for Colorado Springs residents with different access needs.
Stetson Hills residents Chris and Nikole Sweeney sued the city, alleging their neighborhood has for years lacked necessary ramps and sidewalks.
Chris Sweeney has been in a wheelchair since being struck twice by lightning, once while on duty in the Air Force.
The city agreed to pay the couple $19,000 and hold quarterly town halls for residents to discuss accessibility issues and concerns around town.
The county has faced far fewer legal troubles stemming from the ADA.
In the past five years, the county settled one claim over accessibility for $13,260. That agreement was reached in November 2016, according to the county.
Behind the curb
Yeager and other advocates say governments nationwide have long ignored the provisions of the ADA, in part because no one was forcing them to abide by the law.
But locally, progress in achieving compliance has lagged behind other cities in the state, she said.
“Both the city and county have come to the table late,” she said. “It’s just a shame that it seems like the ADA didn’t get over Palmer (Divide) until sometimes in the mid-2000-teens.”
The ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities working for organizations and agencies that received federal funding.
President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.
The city developed a transition plan between 1991 and 1992 and updated the document several times in 1995, a city staffer previously told The Gazette. But for years after that, the plan went untouched.
For more than two decades, neither the city nor county had full-time ADA coordinators. Instead, various aspects of the job were spread among different departments.
By 2015, the Colorado Springs area had fallen well short of the spirit and letter of the ADA, The Gazette reported. Buildings and pathways were inaccessible to the then-estimated 66,000 people with disabilities in the county.
“Colorado Springs is a little behind the times,” said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, which aims to ensure that people with disabilities can access facilities and meet other basic needs.
“I would think a city of that size should have figured this out by now,” she said.
She noted, for example, that Fort Collins, Pueblo and Denver have commissions or committees that allow citizens to weigh in on ADA issues and government priorities for improvements.
Progress made elsewhere in Colorado has also been fueled by legal concerns.
Denver agreed in 2016 to install at least 1,500 curb ramps annually — until every pedestrian walkway crossing in the city is compliant — under a settlement with the nonprofit Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, the Denver Post reported.
Two years later, Denver pledged to spend millions of dollars more on ADA compliance after the U.S. Justice Department conducted a review and demanded improvements, The Post reported.
Meeting the Challenge, a Colorado Springs-based ADA compliance consultant, is working with 10 other localities in Colorado, said the firm’s director, Dana Barton.
“This is happening all over the state and all over the country,” Barton said. “When it comes to accessibility, if it doesn’t affect you or a loved one, sometimes you don’t think about all the things that go into making activities, services and programs accessible.”
Improvements in the works
Wills, a personal injury attorney who’s handled accessibility cases, said he lost the use of his legs about 15 years ago in a “freak ski accident.”
He often sees hallways and other passages that are too narrow for wheelchairs and parking spots blocking curb ramps.
And when he’s working at the Terry R. Harris Judicial Complex’s older south tower, he has to use the restrooms in the newer parts of the courthouse because his wheelchair won’t fit in the aging tower’s bathroom stalls.
“There are buildings like that all over — even city and county buildings,” Wills said.
But local officials have stressed that they’re continuing to make strides in accessibility. New buildings and sidewalks are being constructed with ADA requirements in mind, they say.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” county facilities Executive Director Brian Olsen told county commissioners during an Oct. 24 work session. “That’s not to say we don’t have deficiencies and need to fix those — and we’ll continue to do so.”
The county’s 2019 budget includes about $555,000 worth of ADA improvements that will be fully completed this year or next year, Olsen said. A 2020 staff budget proposal allots another $300,000 to compliance projects.
“Could we do it better? Absolutely. It’s a matter of money,” said Mark Waller, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. “We have a limited and finite number of dollars.”
Mayor John Suthers’ proposed 2020 budget includes $1.4 million for the city’s ADA program and operating costs. Last year the council unanimously agreed to hire five new ADA inspectors, an administrator and a human resources staffer.
City Councilwoman Yolanda Avila, an accessibility advocate who is legally blind, praised the city’s progress.
“I have seen a notable difference,” Avila said.
“I don’t think it’s easy when we’re covering 200 square miles,” she said. “But we’re making our best effort.”
When Dawn Howard was two years old, her parents were told that she would not likely have “any intelligible speech.” But Dawn, who was born with slight cerebral palsy, says “I had a pushy mother, who did find a speech therapist who would work with me.” She pauses. “And I am so thankful for that.” From preschool on, Dawn was fully included in school, though was often the only physically disabled child in the class.
As an adult, Dawn passed the national exam to become an occupational therapist, but found that her cerebral palsy made it difficult to physically transfer or lift her clients. So she went back to school for library science and worked as a librarian for 13 years. But during her last two years working in the Denver public library, Dawn says she was “discriminated against, bullied and nitpicked out of a job.”
Suddenly unemployed, Dawn took a 10-week disability advocacy class through the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), a state disability rights organization that advocates for social justice for people with all types of disabilities. Dawn quickly became involved in CCDC’s work as a volunteer, and within a year, was hired on as a community organizer.
CCDC is run by and for “people with all types of disabilities: from Down Syndrome to Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Autism, people with brain injuries, people with mental illness, those who are blind or deaf, and much more.”
As the organization’s motto goes, “Nothing about us without us.”
Shannon Secrest came to CCDC by way of a different path. Thirteen years ago, she began the process of accessing resources for her now 16-year-old son. Considered “medically complicated” and with 12 different diagnoses, Shannon’s son qualified for myriad care benefits and resources, but Shannon encountered barriers in each system she navigated—from education to healthcare to social security.
Frustrated, she went back to school and joined every relevant committee, council, and commission she could. Like Dawn, Shannon enrolled in the CCDC disability advocacy class. Last year, she was brought on board as a full-time staff member. She’s also back in school full-time, getting a Master’s in Public Administration, with a focus on policy analysis.
“Quite honestly,” says Shannon. “I just got tired of being told no. Or that I was just a mom and didn’t understand fiscal responsibility or legislation or school finance.”
As an organization, CCDC engages in both individual advocacy (“the process of assisting an individual member to correct a problem with the system such as obtaining or maintaining a benefit or service or solving a problem with a service provider, landlord, employer, etc); and systemic advocacy (“the process of changing rules or laws that interfere with the rights of all people with disabilities”).
Those wishing to become a certified advocate and to represent CCDC are required to complete the organization’s 10-week Disability Advocacy Training Class. Offered in-person or remotely, (and as an accredited opportunity with the University of Denver) the class is open to anyone “interested in learning the basics of advocacy…or anyone looking for additional skills necessary to work in the field of disability services, advocacy, community organizing, the legislative process, or civil rights law.”
Part of the “beauty” of the class, says Shannon, is in the diversity of the participants. “Not only that we’re advocating for people in our community, but also training up allies and accomplices to understand the work we do.”
After the class, Dawn works one-on-one with graduates to strategize where they’d like to devote their time and energy as advocates. “I say, okay you’ve had a good overview in the class. Now, where does your passion lie?” explains Dawn. Sometimes students are particularly interested in transportation, Medicaid, or housing, so Dawn will suggest committees or councils they might join on behalf of CCDC.
“It’s a very targeted way to do relational organizing,” says Shannon. “We’re really trying to tailor it to their desires, rather than trying to fit it into the whole. We’re not going to be prescriptive. We want you to do what ignites your passion.”
Pueblo advocates among flyers who’ve experienced losing mobility far from home
After a United Airlines flight three years ago, Isabelle Briar ripped open her thumb as she pushed her wheelchair away from the gate. The airline had cracked the metal grip ring, leaving a sharp, protruding shard.
The same airline ignored Cindy Otis’ complaints about damage to her power chair in 2006, responding weeks later and only after she had an attorney write a letter threatening to sue.
In 2017, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, boarded a flight hours after writing federal Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Duckworth wanted to know why the agency again delayed requiring airlines to track damage to wheelchairs and scooters.
Upon landing, the Army veteran and amputee noticed her wheelchair no longer moved.
“They bent the metal bracket with the casters,” Duckworth said. “We’re talking about heavy-duty metal. I wonder, how are you managing to break these chairs?”
Last year, Duckworth slipped a provision into the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. It requires major commercial airlines to track mishandled mobility aids for the first time. Each month, airlines must tell the DOT how often they gate-check wheelchairs and scooters, as well as how often passengers report those devices as damaged, lost, delayed or stolen.
That requirement took effect in December, but some airlines reported challenges providing accurate figures that month.
However, between January and August— the latest month for which data is available — U.S. carriers reported having mishandled at least 6,915 chairs. That’s an average of 29 times a day.
While it’s just 1.6% of the chairs and scooters checked on flights, more than a dozen travelers told GateHouse Media that damage to their mobility aids can have significant medical, emotional and financial consequences. Some avoid flying altogether, saying the risks are too great.
“They are essential mobility equipment. It’s important stuff,” said Ben Mattlin, a Los Angeles writer and power chair user. “God, if that many pets were injured every day, it’d be an uproar.”
Duckworth said the general public fails to grasp the severity of the situation when a wheelchair is damaged or lost.
“Imagine if in a single year (that many) people had their legs broken by an airline as a result of flying,” Duckworth said. “The effect is the same.”
United Airlines did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Not an object
Travelers said people often see their chairs as objects rather than critical, customized extensions of their bodies that enable independence.
“We literally cannot function without them,” said Briar, a video game streamcaster from Nebraska.
Because wheelchairs are not one-size-fits-all, they can take weeks to repair and sometimes cost thousands of dollars to replace a single part. Daily users require devices that routinely cost as much as a car, and the most specialized power chairs might cost as much as a small house.
If the damage from a flight isn’t immediately devastating, or if airlines refuse to pay for repairs, some people said they have lived with broken mobility aids.
Duct tape holds together a key metal beam of Briar’s wheelchair.
“Because of the nature of the way the chair fits, I didn’t realize my seat was missing half of its support until I transferred back into it in the (airport) bathroom,” she said.
United Airlines nearly lost the metal rod in a plane’s cargo hold, she said, and refused to pay for repairs. Staff members used duct tape to hold the support rod in place instead, she said.
Noting the prohibitive cost to repair it and the days she’d be without her aid, Briar said, “I’m still using it in that condition.”
Tips for Pueblo travelers
Though she has not heard of cases specific to Pueblo, Kristen Castor, nonattorney advocate for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said airline damage is a reality for many wheelchair owners.
“If they don’t have a wheelchair, they don’t have mobility — and they have been tossed out of the airport without their wheelchairs,” she said. “I’ve got a story from New York: One of the activist friends I work with, her chair was destroyed by the airline. She finally has gotten a chair from them, but it takes a long time to fight that.”
Wheelchair pieces including armrests, footrests as well as the electronic controls on powered wheelchairs are especially vulnerable to damage, Castor said. She also recommends that wheelchair owners dismantle the chairs themselves before boarding a plane.
Julie Reiskin, executive director for the coalition, boards a flight once a month on average and said she has experienced damage to her wheelchair after flying on two occasions.
“In both cases the airlines did take responsibility to pay for the repairs; however, in both cases my chair was still functional, so I was not in a situation of being in a strange city with no workable chair,” Reiskin said. “That is my worst nightmare.”
“Some people can walk a bit or can use other chairs, but many of us who are considered ‘full-time’ wheelchair users have customized seating; so we cannot sit in any chair that is not ours — at least not without risking injury or at least serious pain,” she said.
To avoid damage, Reiskin said she takes severe precautions when traveling with an airline. Before flying, she brings laminated instructions on chair maintenance with her, removes the headrests and footrests, informs airline employees and arrives at the gate two hours early.
“Most of us who travel a lot probably are living closer to the city, but there may be folks in Pueblo that are active travelers,” she said. “I think it is much worse for those who are not active travelers, because they do not have all of the tips and tricks about how to travel with a motorized wheelchair.”
The real number of mishandled wheelchairs is likely much higher than 29 per day, said advocates for people with disabilities.
That’s because many passengers don’t formally report damages to the airlines. Other times, the damage might not immediately be apparent.
Eric Howk, a guitarist for popular rock group “Portugal. The Man” flies more than 100 times a year.
Even though his manual wheelchair is often damaged and delayed while flying, Howk said he never has filed a federal complaint or requested a Complaint Resolution Officer — staff members trained to resolve disability-related issues. He notes he is lucky to have the physical ability and financial means to fix most damage himself.
That said, he currently sits in a replacement chair provided by Alaska Airlines.
“I watched a ground crew member snap the back off the chair,” he said.
Alaska Airlines, which reports damaging fewer than 1% of mobility aids, said in an email that it’s “always committed to improving where we can – especially in this area.”
In the first seven months of this year, American Airlines had the worst record, mishandling 1,846 devices — or 3.7% of all the mobility aids it gate checked.
“We are working hard to build tools and training so that every wheelchair is returned to the passenger in great condition,” an American Airlines spokesperson wrote in an email. “This data and other information are being used to develop a comprehensive plan for improving the customer experience for the long term.”
Several airlines — Allegiant, Hawaiin, JetBlue, Spirit and United — did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment on the new federal regulations.
Hope for change
Duckworth hopes the new requirement will help federal regulators better monitor the issue and identify ways for airlines to improve, as well as empower travelers to make informed buying decisions.
“Ultimately,” she said, “it’s about treating medical devices with respect.”
A USDOT spokesperson said by email that the agency publishes the data in its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report but did not mention any other plans for the new information.
Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman, announced in a blog post Tuesday that he would strengthen enforcement of the Air Carrier Access Act, among other policies, if elected.
Chair users have their own common-sense solutions they say airlines should adopt, such as adding a special section in cargo holds to safely secure mobility aids away from other luggage. Others said airlines should store folding manual chairs in the cabin rather than the cargo hold — something already required, but rarely followed, under federal rules.
The most popular solution: Let passengers keep their chairs and sit in them during flights.
“They don’t demand anyone else to put their legs in cargo, but they do when your legs are wheels,” said Jennifer Brooks, a power chair user from Syracuse, New York.
Some wheelchair users said they are exhausted and skeptical about the likelihood of change.
“There have to be consequences,” said the East Coast cybersecurity expert. “They’ve had anecdotal data for years at this point. … We know what the data says already. We know what’s happening. There needs to be some enforcement.”
This story is the first in an ongoing series. Fill out this short form to share your story of flying with a mobility aid or to tell the reporter what questions you would like answered in future stories: http://bit.ly/ChairTraveler. Jessica Fraser can be reached at email@example.com or 941-361-4923.
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