- By Laurie Watanabe
- Apr 01, 2018
The ride home from the International Seating Symposium in Vancouver is blessedly short: B.C. to Seattle to Southern California. The week had been as amazing, but as tiring, as ever, and I was dozing on my Seattle-to-home flight when the captain’s voice woke me.
If we have any doctors or other medical professionals on board, please identify yourself.
A physician and two nurses went to assist a young woman in first class. From my aisle seat just beyond the first-class curtain, I saw them reassure her, take her blood pressure, jot down notes, listen to her breathing, and reassure her again for two hours. During our descent, as flight attendants buckled themselves into seats, one nurse wedged herself into the leg space of a seat across from her patient. She sat and braced as wheels touched down, and never stopped smiling at her patient.
As we coasted to the gate, the captain’s voice came on again: Folks, we have medical personnel meeting our flight, so please stay seated. We’ll let you know when it’s okay for you to deplane.
That’s when the gentleman across the aisle from me began to talk.
“It’s not like she’s passed out. I can see her head is moving. She’s not lying on the floor. How long is this going to take?”
The guy next to him snickered. Paramedics came aboard and talked softly to the woman, who wore an oxygen mask but walked off under her own power. The doctor and nurses went with her.
During all of this, I had been wondering, not for the first time: How easy is it for a person using a wheelchair to evacuate an airplane in an emergency or urgent situation? With a wheelchair in the cargo hold or stored in the first-class closet, how quickly could such an evacuation take place? How willing would other passengers be to assist, given the complaining I just heard?
Coincidentally, Dean Miller of Epical Solutions had been our “booth neighbor” in the ISS expo hall. Dean had shown me the Traveler, an extremely compact transport chair with an incredibly low seat-to-floor height. Created in part by wheelchair users, the chair can roll down a typical airplane aisle; its user propels by grabbing hold of the airplane seat armrests and pulling him/herself down the aisle. I’ve included a photo of the Traveler, with a cell phone on its seat for scale. A folded Traveler can fit easily into an airplane closet or overhead...maybe even under a seat. And in addition to possibly being helpful in an evacuation, such a chair could also make it possible for a wheelchair user to independently get to the plane’s lavatory.
The Traveler isn’t for everyone; neither is the Adapts sling (page 28). But in a world that often loves the idea of inclusion far more than its actual practice, such technology is a start. “Consumers Informing Practice” was the ISS theme this year. I admire everyone who works every day to make that goal more than just a slogan.
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Mobility Management.
Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.