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ACCESSIBLE AIR TRAVEL ADVOCACY TAKING OFF: Public Service Fellow Brady Martin partners with All Wheels Up leading grassroots advocacy efforts for wheelchair accessibility on airplanes

The Maguire Ethics Center welcomes you to our second 2021 Maguire Public Service Fellow spotlight. This week’s post features Public Service Fellow Brady Martin and his work with All Wheels Up advocating for wheelchair space on aircrafts.

While catching a flight remains a simple part of life for most people, those flying as a wheelchair user may find flying a daunting proposition. While airlines are required to assist in making it possible to fly, it’s often not a pleasant process. Slings, hoists, and slide boards make the whole experience rather undignified, and all too often can end up with wheelchairs becoming damaged or broken, or even the passenger getting hurt

“Airlines need to recognize that each of their passengers need to be treated with dignity,” SMU senior Brady Martin says. “Some call air travel a luxury and believe that we are privileged if we have the opportunity to travel by air. However, in the globalizing 21st century, air travel is often a necessity.”

Recognizing this inequity, Brady Martin is teaming up with All Wheels Up, the only organization in the world crash testing wheelchair tie downs and wheelchairs for commercial flight, for his 2021 Maguire Public Service Fellowship project.

“So many individuals with disabilities are unable to sit in standard airplane seats and therefore are unable to travel to distant locations,” Brady says. “I believe that it is the right of every individual to travel freely.”

Brady’s passion for disability rights advocacy stems from his relationship with his friend Danny who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease affecting the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and voluntary muscle movement. Brady says that for the past 10 years, he has witnessed the everyday challenges that Danny faces as a wheelchair user. This past summer, Brady spoke to Danny about his experience flying to Hawaii.

“Because Danny cannot hold himself in a sitting position, Danny is unable to sit in a traditional airplane seat,” Brady says. “Instead, he had to spend the five-hour flight to Hawaii laying at his parents’ feet. When I heard about this, I was shocked and felt that I needed to take action to understand why airplanes are not more accessible.”

Aviation standards require airplane seats to withstand forces of 16 Gs, or 16 times the force of gravity. Wheelchairs and wheelchair-restraint systems in cars, buses, and trains exceed that standard, but president and founder of All Wheels Up Michele Erwin says they aren’t allowed on planes because the aviation industry has not invested funds in testing and certifying wheelchairs for air travel.

“Our crash testing of wheelchair tie downs has proven that these tie downs can exceed 16 Gs and therefore are as safe or safer than a traditional seat,” Brady says. “Our job now is to spread these findings.”

Working with All Wheels Up, Brady has spent his summer addressing this little-known issue. Brady has scheduled meetings with representatives from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to discuss the feasibility of wheelchair space on airplanes.

“One of the best solutions is grassroots advocacy,” Brady says. “Most people don’t ever think about the inaccessibility of aircrafts, so just by bringing it up, you can spark change.”

Along with his work with members of congress, Brady is also spending time planning and marketing All Wheels Up’s first annual “Walk, Run and Roll for Accessible Air Travel” fundraiser. 

“Because this is the first annual fundraiser, All Wheels Up needs a lot of support spreading the word and coordinating logistics,” Brady says.

Brady is also completing his own research by analyzing the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the Air Carrier Access Act to understand the legal protections for individuals with disabilities during air travel.

“This fellowship is helping fuel my passion for disability rights advocacy,” Brady says. “It is preparing me for a future in the disability rights sector and further my interest in the intersection between human rights and law.”

Brady is a senior at SMU studying Public Policy, Human Rights, and Spanish and minoring in Law & Legal Reasoning. Following graduation, he plans on attending law school and continuing his disability rights advocacy.

“I believe this is one of the most hidden ethical issues of today and because of its invisibility, it is even more important to address,” Brady says.” We cannot claim to live in an ethical world until every human being is treated with equality. We cannot guarantee a perfectly ethical world, but we can strive to demand dignity and respect for all living beings.”

How you can help:

  • You can sign All Wheels Up’s petition and share it on social media. The petition already has 39,000+ signatures and All Wheels Up plans on showing it to Congress, the FAA, Airlines, and Airplane Manufacturers.
  • Follow All Wheels Up on Facebook and Twitter if you aren’t already where they post updates on what they are doing and other ways you can help.
  • Donate. All Wheels Up is a grassroots organization and need donations to help crash test wheelchairs and personal restraint systems, set up meetings with Congress, FAA, DOT, Airlines, and Airplane Manufacturers, create videos showing how Accessible Airplanes will look like, grow our team, work on engineering and design, and ultimately make Air Travel fully accessible for millions of people who use Wheelchairs around the world.
  • If an airline has ever damaged your wheelchair or discriminated against you based on your disability, please file a formal complaint with the Department of Transportation. Airlines need to know whenever they are not servicing the Disabled Community properly. The Department of Transportation has a formal complaint system where all complaints are investigated and reports covering the entire airline industry are published every year. The Airlines and DOT need to know what they are doing wrong and what can be addressed.

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