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Boost for disabled tourists as Heathrow pilots wheelchair workshop

March 19, 2012

A press release I have just recieved from Trailblazers:

A group of young campaigners are heralding a move by BAA Airports to pilot the UK’s first airport wheelchair repair service at Heathrow, in a move that they say will be a major boost to disabled travellers.

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers’ 2010 study of disability and the UK tourist industry, All Inclusive?, found that the fear of damage to powered-wheelchairs during loading and unloading from aircraft is a major anxiety for disabled tourists, who may be left stranded if the equipment fails to start. The 400-strong young campaigners’ group, which tackles social issues facing young disabled people, learned of the pilot scheme during a meeting in Parliament last week, and says that it should give domestic and international disabled travellers confidence to fly in and out of the UK.

The new trial will run between July and September in time for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and will see a specialist technician on-hand to fix faults on the spot. Modern powered wheelchairs are often designed specifically for their owners, meaning that a substitute cannot be found easily and disabled tourists risk having their holiday ruined should the wheelchair breakdown abroad.

The Trailblazers have battled to improve the UK tourist industry for disabled travellers, including campaigning to end inconsistent policy between major airlines on carrying disabled travellers and working with travel agents to ensure vital information is offered to disabled customers.

Trailblazer Jagdeep Sehmbi (28) from Birmingham said:

“This is great news for disabled flyers. A couple of years ago, I arrived back into Heathrow after a holiday to find my wheelchair broken and bent out of shape. I’m dependent on my wheelchair for independence day to day, so I’m stranded when it is out of action. I really feel for disabled people from other countries who experience the same thing, when they have paid hundreds or even thousands of pounds to come here and enjoy their holidays.

“Knowing there will be an expert at the airport should the worst happen means that people can relax and enjoy their breaks.”

Bobby Ancil, Project Manager of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers said:

“We are delighted to hear about this pilot, which is going to be a real boost for disabled tourists planning a trip to the UK over the summer. Handing over a powered-wheelchair – which can cost up to £16,000 – to an airline can be a pretty daunting prospect for its owner. To then be stranded at a busy foreign airport because a wheelchair is no longer functioning is the stuff of nightmares.

“We really hope that this pilot will be a success and that Olympic and Paralympic Games might bring us the legacy of a permanent wheelchair repair service at our busiest airport.”


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