Pilot program

Friday, December 31, 2004

ATLANTA - Mobility Designs is making the skies friendlier - for power wheelchair users.

The company this fall teamed up with Delta Airlines to provide training to airport gate and ramp agents on how to protect expensive pieces of power mobility equipment from being damaged in flight.

Mobility Designs has seen it all when it comes to these broken wheelchairs. Located it Atlanta, a major Delta hub, Mobility Designs has become the go-to supplier for Delta and other carriers when they need something fixed. Common problems range from broken joysticks and cracked hubs to torn armrests and lost parts.

“As careful as people are, things break,” said Kay Koch, director of marketing, education and training for Mobility Designs. “For all you know there was turbulence and someone’s bag rolled into the chair and broke something.”

To help relieve such problems, Mobility Designs hosted a free training session for Delta gate employees and baggage handlers. The session taught the employees about wheelchair anatomy, so they can more readily identify problems with the equipment. The company also brought in a variety of power and manual chairs and scooters for them to practice working with.

Koch instructed the nearly 80 attendees on what questions to ask wheelchair users before they board and what items should be removed from the chair before it is stowed in the hull of the plane.

“A lot of people have under-the-seat pouches on their chairs that hold certain items,” said Koch. “That’s something a good ramp agent would probably remove and have the individual take with them on the plane. It’s not a bad idea for them to unplug the joystick as well.”

Mobility Designs employee Carol Hickey, a Paralympic fencer who travels extensively for competitions, also took part in the training and discussed her experiences traveling as a disabled person. Hickey said she has run into numerous problems with her chairs being damaged or not even put on the plane.

Once when she was flying to Italy with a group of athletes, three chairs failed to make it on the plane.

“We got our chairs a day later, but until then, we had to sit in airport dinosaur chairs,” Hickey said. “They are so big that I looked like a little child in it. I couldn’t even push it myself. It took away my mobility for a day.”

“I wanted them to consider if they were in a wheelchair - put themselves in the shoes of these customers,” she added.

Mobility Designs hopes to follow up the first training with a similar session in another area of the country.

“This is important education because more and more people with disabilities are flying and some of them for the first time,” said Koch. “I applaud Delta because they are the first airline I am aware of to take this proactive stance.”