Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Disabled and Everyone Can Now FLY

RECEIVING bad news is something that most of us would avoid, if possible. But imagine if the bad news suddenly turned into incredibly good news!

That sums up my (and countless other elderly and disabled persons’) feelings and experience when AirAsia recently announced that it would make its skies friendly to wheelchair-users and other disabled passengers.

The low-cost carrier will take on the challenge of providing suitable equipment
for passengers who use wheelchairs. These include specially-designed moveable
mechanical contraptions called ambulifts. At the press of a button, these gizmos
will be able to transport passengers in wheelchairs from ground-level up to the
entrance of the aircraft.

I’ve used them before on trips aboard Malaysia Airlines aircraft, as well as on other smaller aircraft overseas.

Everyone can fly: A recent demonstration of disabled persons being transported into an AirAsia aircraft via an ambulift. – Filepic
Ambulifts are more practical, gentler and much safer than airstairs – the current traditional staircase-climbing method which AirAsia employs for non-disabled passengers.

Of course, ambulifts will not solve all problems for passengers in wheelchairs. There are other equally vital measures that must go into force. AirAsia must ensure that the equipment is not only in tip-top condition all the time, with regular servicing and proper maintenance being carried out, but also that it is available 24/7 for passengers who need them.

I recall some unexpected and unnerving episodes during my past flights.

On a couple of occasions, the ambulift was out of order. I had no choice but to face the treacherous situation of being carried down the plane, on the long airstairs, by inexperienced airline crew.

The other problem was the late arrival of the ambulifts. I once waited for nearly one-and-a-half-hours due to the airline’s poor coordination.

The flight crew were so embarrassed that they offered me free fresh orange juice on the plane, when what I really needed was to get to the airport’s toilet, urgently!

Airlines should thus be prepared for some “surprises”. For instance, having a good aisle chair (a wheelchair that fits into the aisles in the aircraft), similar to the one I used in Oregon, the United States, many years ago.

It was made of lightweight material, with special bars for the airport staff to grab onto when transporting a passenger.

It had no wheels or castors (the small front wheels of a wheelchair), as it was designed only for carrying.

It came with safety belts for the arms, waist and legs, making the passenger feel safe and secure before being transported into and off the aircraft.

The way that it was designed, the contraption didn’t get in the way of the crew or passengers whilst the disabled was being carried to his seat.

Of course, the aisle wheelchairs which AirAsia plans to bring in (I presume, the ones with removable wheels except for the castors) are the most suitable for an ambulift.

The real test lies in the hands of the persons operating the contraption.

Any person who has used a wheelchair as long as I have – almost 40-years – will be able to tell you that the moment someone touches your wheelchair, one is able to tell almost immediately if it is going to be a pleasant journey or one hell of a rollercoaster ride!

Source : STAR
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