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Air Canada flies country’s accessibility advocate home, leaves her wheelchair behind

Former MLA Stephanie Cadieux stranded without ‘essential equipment’

After experiencing less-than-ideal circumstances while travelling with Air Canada, Canada’s Chief Accessibility Officer Stephanie Cadieux doesn’t want the focus to remain on her experience, but rather, on the issue of accessible air travel.

Cadieux, who has used a wheelchair since she was 18, tweeted that Air Canada had left her wheelchair in Toronto rather than load it onto her flight to Vancouver last Friday, Oct. 20.

“Well. @AirCanada left my chair in Toronto. I’m now without my essential equipment. Independence taken away. I’m furious. Unacceptable. #RightsOnFlights,” the former Surrey South MLA, who still lives in South Surrey, posted.

Cadieux posted a statement on LinkedIn about her experience, saying she received an overwhelming response – many sharing similar stories without such quick resolution – noting that Air Canada responded to her on X, formerly known as Twitter, and that her wheelchair has since been returned.

“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 in the statement.

“My job title as Chief Accessibility Officer should not influence the experience I have when I fly. Every person with a disability who entrusts their wheelchair to an airline should expect, and be granted the same service. We are all customers,” she said.

READ ALSO: Surrey South MLA Stephanie Cadieux resigns seat to become Canada’s first Chief Accessibility Officer

“I want everyone to understand that when a person’s wheelchair is lost, so is their independence, safety, mobility, and dignity,” she continued.

Airlines do not treat these pieces of medical equipment as the essential extensions of individual’s bodies that they are, Cadieux said.

“The appropriate care and attention is not given and the result is situations like the one that happened to me on Friday. As it stands, the consequences for this neglect by the airlines are only felt by the person with the disability, who must fight to hold the airline accountable, often with little or no success. Airlines have to take responsibility and they have to do better.”

Air Canada apologized to Cadieux on X, noting “Accessibility is a priority,” for the airline and commiting to “do better.”

Cadieux has been speaking about the topic of accessible air travel a lot lately, she noted.

Later this week, she’s heading to Chicago to attend an International Air Transport Association conference, and will be delivering a keynote address on the subject.

“This is an important topic and it bears a lot more discussion, but urgent corrective action is also needed,” she wrote in her statement.

“I travel a lot for my work and while my wheelchair has been damaged a number of times over the past year alone, this is the first time it didn’t arrive at all. Rightfully, people expressed their dismay and outrage. Unfortunately, for people with disabilities this wasn’t a big surprise.”

Calling the recent experience a “visceral reminder of why I do the work I do,” Cadieux noted that this is why so many advocates are always working so hard for change, and why it matters so much.

“I’ll continue to have conversations with the airlines and the air travel sector and I will continue to push for accessible air travel solutions for everyone,” she said in her statement.

“It needs to change now.”

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’ve worked as a journalist in community newspapers from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey.
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