Disability advocate Engracia Figueroa had a spinal cord injury and left leg amputation, but was able to fly and speak at a rally in DC thanks to her specialized, custom wheelchair.
But on her return flight, her wheelchair had been damaged by United Airlines… who then made her sit in a broken wheelchair for 5 hours.
Sadly, due to her injuries, sitting in this broken wheelchair without support ended up costing Figueroa her life – and just wait until you hear her tragic story.
Figueroa’s wheelchair was custom designed to fit her body, costing $30,000.
But instead of treating it with care, it was damaged in cargo by airline employees and was no longer safe to use.
One would think after United Airlines learned they had damaged her wheelchair, they would have immediately worked to get her a new one.
But they didn’t.
In fact, they fought with her, trying to argue it could have been “repaired” even though her motorized wheelchair had so much damage to it that it posed a serious fire risk.
The Washington Post reports airlines damage around 29 wheelchairs every single day!
But sadly, this wasn’t the first time Figueroa’s wheelchair had been damaged while flying.
She bravely spoke out on what it’s like each time her chair takes a hit when flying.
“Mobility devices are an extension of our bodies. When they are damaged or destroyed, we become re-disabled. Until the airlines learn how to treat our devices with the care and respect they deserve, flying remains inaccessible,” Figueroa said during an interview with ABC in August.”
The combination of Figueroa being forced to sit in a defective chair – and the airline initially refusing to replace her chair (until it was too late) and giving her an improper loaner chair instead ended up costing Figueroa her life.
Hand in Hand, a charity she was involved with, spoke on the tragedy that resulted due to her damaged wheelchair.
Paddle Your Own Kanoo reported:
“Her struggle to maintain her balance over that length of time in the faulty device led to significant injuries,” the charity said in a statement. “When she was finally able to return home, she experienced acute pain, and was admitted to the hospital multiple times in the subsequent months.
United Airlines allegedly refused to replace the “demolished” wheelchair and insisted it could be fixed. The airline provided a loaner chair which didn’t support Engracia’s weight properly and resulted in her developing a skin ulcer that became infected.”
Doctors tried to save her life – but it was too late.
Passengers with disabilities continue to be violated and harassed by airline officials and employees – even though there are laws in place to protect them.
From the flight attendant who mocked a deaf woman for “only being able to read lips” to the family with special needs who was booted off the plane over a mask – it’s clear the airlines need a massive overhaul on how to treat passengers with disabilities.
Our condolences to Engracia Figueroa’s friends and family for having to mourn a tragedy that could have easily been prevented.
What are your thoughts on United Airlines initial refusal to replace Figueroa’s wheelchair?
How do you think they should have handled the situation?
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