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Model and activist Jillian Mercado posted a video, which shows John F. Kennedy International Airport workers breaking her wheelchair after ignoring her directions on how to handle it.
“[Even] when I specifically advised that my chair does not fold… they folded it anyways causing the chair to completely snap and break,” Mercado tweeted on July 18. “I am completely and utterly over the disrespect and unprofessionalism of airports handling assistive devices. THIS IS OUR WAY OF LIVING!”
She then encouraged others to share their own stories about how air travel is inaccessible for disabled people with the hashtag #disabledairlinehorror.
THIS HAS TO STOP! I am completely and utterly over the disrespect and unprofessionalism of airports handling assistive devices. THIS IS OUR WAY OF LIVING!— Jillian Mercado (@jilly_peppa) July 18, 2019
I...WE have heard too many horror stories from people either feeling afraid to travel (which is my favorite thing to do, and it hurts me that this is standing in the way of someone enjoying the world) or having their devices completely broken upon arrival.— Jillian Mercado (@jilly_peppa) July 18, 2019
Mercado wrote that she’s been through four-to-six similar incidents while traveling–all in the span of two years.
She added that bad experiences like hers can deter people from traveling. Several Twitter users echoed the sentiment, saying they opt to drive or to skip traveling altogether because of the risks.
It's been 13 years since my last airplane trip, because this stuff happens ALL THE TIME... Able-bodied people wouldn't fly if they were more likely than not to end the flight with 2 broken legs. Why would I risk my mobility like that??#DisabledAirlineHorror #CripTheVote https://t.co/Cp9PvBOYtR— Kristine Napper 🍎✏️♿🗽❄️ (@Kristine_Napper) July 19, 2019
My wife and I just drove 2,000 miles to see our daughter's graduation--because air travel is just too difficult, too risky, too scary for those of us with essential equipment. And it's only gotten worse in recent years #disabledairlinehorror— Ben Mattlin (@benmattlin) July 18, 2019
From broken wheelchairs to outright discrimination, Twitter users are now sharing stories about some of the obstacles they have faced while traveling.
#disabledairlinehorror My chair was supposed to be gate checked. It wasn't. They stuck me in a transport chair that cannot be self-propelled and abandoned me in a service way for 4 hours, unable to use the restroom or access water in 90° heat— Carolyn Agee (@ageec) July 20, 2019
#disabledairlinehorror July 2012, I brought a spare chair - TiLite ZRA w/ snow wheels - to fly with me from MSP - LGA on Delta. Titanium frame was twisted, caster stems and housing broken, spokes and rims smashed. Offered $500 for the repairs after 8wk. Unrepairable $7k chair. https://t.co/3tKO0Aoq6b— Sara Tabor (@OneHotProcessor) July 18, 2019
Thousands of people shared Mercado’s tweet thread. Kennedy airport responded by apologizing for the incident.
“[We] are sorry that you had to be put through this at our airport,” the airport tweeted. “We hope that your chair was functional when you arrived at your next destination.”
Airlines lose or damage about 26 wheelchairs a day, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition, 65% of disabled travelers reported having “major obstacles” at the airport, according to a 2015 study from Open Doors Organization, a nonprofit that advises businesses on accessibility.
Mercado wrote that she is using her platform to prompt change at airports.
SO I'M MAKING NOISE! We need accessible air travel NOW! The disrespect has to stop. I'm going to get as much media coverage as possible, using my platform to change this. I WANT UR STORIES/PHOTOS OR VIDEO hashtag #disabledairlinehorror OR email me: [email protected]— Jillian Mercado (@jilly_peppa) July 18, 2019
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Sierra Juarez is a freelance journalist and fact-checker based in Mexico. She most enjoys writing about human rights and politics and working in audience engagement. Her work has appeared in the Texas Tribune, the Austin American–Statesman, and the San Antonio Current.