24-year-old Hayleigh Barclay, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, talks to Disability Horizons about her airline campaign to create better access to aeroplanes and improve facilities onboard.
I’m part of a disability campaign group called Trailblazers, a sub group of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. Two years ago the group carried out an investigation into the accessibility issues faced by disabled passengers when travelling. One of the main issues resonated deeply with my own situation: the inability to access planes.
My own wheelchair has been specifically designed to suit my posture to create as much comfort as possible. This means that it is impossible for me to sit in a standard airline seat, so travelling by plane is out of the question. Reading the information gathered by Trailblazers, I discovered that I was not alone in this dilemma. So I decided to form a campaign to encourage the aviation industry to research methods that would allow wheelchairs to be taken on board planes and fitted with restraints to secure the chair in place.
The main focus of the campaign so far has been contacting airlines, airline safety regulators, MPs, and engineers to discover why nothing has been or is being done. After being given a lot of valuable information, I have learnt that part of the problem has been that there is confusion as to whose responsibility it is to fund and implement the research required to reach a solution.
The campaign has been running now for almost two years and people are starting to listen. MP Paul Maynard, who I met during a Trailblazer APPG meeting regarding Tourism, is now supporting the campaign.
One of the next priorities is to spread the word to as many people as possible. This is where you come in! So far the campaign can be found on Facebook – we have just under 250 friends, including disability groups – and we are spreading the word via Twitter. We also have an online petition, which can be found on Survey Monkey. We have around 170 signatures but we need a lot more!
Please join our campaign and tell as many people as possible to join also. I am always looking for new ideas to help promote us, so please get in contact.
I obviously don’t have to point out how restrictive it is to be so limited in your travel options. Plus, the issue doesn’t just affect disabled travellers, but also has an impact on their family and friends. I have heard stories of parents of disabled children feeling extreme guilt at either having to leave their loved one behind in order to take a holiday, or having to explain that a particular destination is out of reach because there is no appropriate transport.
For those disabled passengers who can be moved to an aeroplane chair, there are still sacrifices that must be made. I know of one passenger who did not drink for the entire flight for fear of needing to use the toilet that he wouldn’t have been able to access. Another described how he had to lie across two seats as he was in so much pain for the severe discomfort of the seat. And the maddening thing is that many people do want to help; the stewardesses who witnessed this was left feeling embarrassed and saddened by the fact that she could nothing. Does this not prove that there is not enough awareness of the situation, which not only affects disabled travellers but also airline staff, families, etc?
So please join the campaign to show that a solution must be found and that people do care about this issue. If we do not shout loud enough at this stage, then we leave future generations to face the same issues as we do.
By Hayleigh Barclay