Stephanie Cadieux says 'airlines have to take responsibility and they have to do better'
Canada's chief disability officer is taking airlines to task for failing to treat wheelchair users with respect after Air Canada forgot last week to bring her wheelchair on a cross-country flight.
Stephanie Cadieux said that when she flew from Toronto to Vancouver on Friday, she discovered that her wheelchair had been left behind.
She posted about the incident on X, formerly Twitter. Her posting received overwhelming support — almost 650 retweets and more than 2,500 likes.
"This was immensely frustrating and dehumanizing — and I was furious," she later said in a post on her LinkedIn account. "The tweet has been widely viewed and shared. Air Canada responded and my chair has been returned to me."
A statement from Air Canada said the chair was returned Saturday morning.
Cadieux said that while her chair was swiftly and safely returned to her by the airline, her "job title as chief accessibility officer should not influence the experience" she has when she flies.
Well. <a href="https://twitter.com/AirCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AirCanada</a> left my chair in Toronto. I’m now without my essential equipment. Independence taken away. I’m furious. Unacceptable. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RightsOnFlights?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RightsOnFlights</a> <a href="https://t.co/h1WPUwlgxw">pic.twitter.com/h1WPUwlgxw</a>
"While I'm glad I've been able to draw attention to this issue, I don't want the continued focus to be on my experience," she said.
"Not surprisingly to me, many of the responses to my tweet were from people sharing that the same thing had happened to them, with no quick resolution."
Cadieux said everyone who uses an airline should get the same level of service, regardless of job title.
Airlines have to do better: Cadieux
Cadieux said she travels a lot for work and over the past year her wheelchair has been damaged in transit several times.
"I've heard and continue to hear countless stories about lost or severely damaged chairs and enough is enough," she said.
Cadieux said airlines do not provide appropriate care and attention to essential equipment like wheelchairs, and leave disabled travellers to fight alone when things go wrong.
"I want everyone to understand that when a person's wheelchair is lost, so is their independence, safety, mobility and dignity," she said. "Airlines have to take responsibility and they have to do better."
Federal Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera said on social media the situation "is completely unacceptable."
"Persons with disabilities deserve equal rights and access while boarding planes or using public transit," she said.
An Air Canada statement emailed to CBC News said the airline has apologized to Cadieux and the company recognizes "mobility devices are vital to their users"
Air Canada says it's working to improve accessibility
"As part of our investigation into how this serious service lapse occurred, we are also looking for additional measures we can implement to prevent such situations in the future," the statement said.
The statement said the airline carries more than 700,000 travellers requiring wheelchairs or mobility devices in a normal year and "the vast, vast majority … travelled without issue."
The airline said that in the summer, it began rolling out a three-year accessibility plan for customers and employees. Under the plan, the airline is creating an advisory panel of customers with disabilities and is purchasing equipment to improve accessibility.
"We know, particularly as technology and societal expectations change, that our policies must continually evolve and we are fully committed to further refining our approach, including through training, to better support customers requiring mobility assistance and to increase accessibility," the airline said.
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