Heathrow trial could provide quick fix for broken wheelchairs


A decision by Heathrow Airport to trial a new wheelchair repair service in time for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics has been welcomed by young disabled campaigners.

The move was mentioned last week by BAA, which runs Heathrow, at a meeting of the all- party parliamentary group for young disabled people.

Two years ago, research by the Trailblazers group of young disabled campaigners found that the fear of damage to electric wheelchairs – which can cost up to £16,000 – while being loaded and unloaded from flights was a major source of anxiety for young disabled people.

The Heathrow trial is set to run from July to September, spanning both the Olympics and Paralympics, and will see a specialist technician stationed at the airport to fix faults on the spot.

About 80 per cent of London 2012 visitors – including many Paralympic athletes – are expected to pass through Heathrow.

Trailblazer Jagdeep Sehmbi, 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.”

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “Heathrow faces a huge challenge during London 2012 as we will see large numbers of passengers with reduced mobility arriving and departing during the Paralympic Games.

“To ensure the facilities we already have available are suitable we will be putting in place additional measures which include ramp-lifting devices [to allow baggage handlers to move wheelchairs up and down], toilets, lightweight aisle chairs, changing places and a wheelchair repair service. Final details of the wheelchair repair service are still being finalised.”

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, which runs Trailblazers, said it hoped the wheelchair repair trial would be successful and that London 2012 “might bring us the legacy of a permanent wheelchair repair service at our busiest airport”.

21 March 2012


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