Hey Folks, 

We hope that you all are doing well and staying safe.  It's been a while since we have given you updates.  Like many of us around the globe, we are continuing to push forward.  We would like to share with you how we have progressed advocating for change towards making airplanes wheelchair accessible.  Now more than ever we wish that we can travel to spend time with our loved ones who do not live near.  

All Wheels Up (AWU) is a nonprofit organization working hard to help make airplanes wheelchair accessible. This is a human right.

Disability Matters Podcast Interview

Disability Matters with Joyce Bender focuses on the employment and empowerment of people with disabilities. It is one of the first international talk radio shows with real-time captioning.  To say the least, Joyce Bender is a humanitarian, disability advocate, and entrepreneur.  She is the CEO of Disability Employment Service Company's Bender Services and the podcast host of VoiceAmerica’s Disability Matters.

Disability Matters with Host Joyce Bender banner image alongside smiling photos of Joyce Bender, Michelle Erwin, and Kelly Buckland. 
In a recent podcast episode, Joyce interviewed All Wheels Up President and Co-Founder Michele Erwin and National Council on Independent Living’s Executive Director Kelly Buckland on the topic of accessible air travel. Do yourself a favor and hear the latest update on Accessible Air Travel efforts.  You will hear about Disability Rights Activist Judy Heumann’s recent painstaking experience flying to a Joyce Bender interview, an elephant-in-the-room type discussion related to the airline industry and Covid, and what these guests mean when they say "coffee not wheelchair".  Please find links to the episode below to immediately tune in to this amazing interview.


Committee for a Study on the Feasibility of Wheelchair Restraint Systems in Passenger Aircraft

All Wheels Up was a significant part in Section 432 signed into the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act to provide funding for a feasibility review of in-cabin wheelchairs.  As a result, $700,000 was allocated for the US Access Board to sponsor the Transportation Research Board study with a committee of experts in rehabilitation, accessible transportation, engineers, health researchers, legal managers, and safety practitioners. 

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Transportation Research Board provides leadership in transportation innovation and progress through research and information exchange.
Since earlier this year, the Committee for a Study on the Feasibility of Wheelchair Restraint Systems in Passenger Aircraft met four times.  Below we provide a synopsis of the topics they discussed.
  • Wheelchair users perspective: A presentation including how other countries try to compensate wheelchair users such as how Canadian aircraft carriers fly personal care attendants for free.  Also included was an analysis of claims US airline carriers receive for wheelchair mishandling and how it affects wheelchair users from traveling even to the Paralympics. 
  • Airline industry and manufacturers perspective:   A presentation describing the aircraft architecturally and the variations in aircraft and wheelchair designs.
  • FAA cabin safety considerations:  A presentation focusing on airplane crash statistics and need for evacuation. The conclusion included a proposal to petition an exception to DOT 382, 14 CFR part 25 design standards such that the wheelchair accommodation can still meet FAA regulations
  • Innovations in Wheelchair accessible airplane travel:  AWU’s President and co-founder Michele Erwin and representatives from Calspan, Q'straint, and Quantum describe wheelchair accessible airplane travel innovations. You will be impressed with the work by All Wheels Up and its initiation to move forward with research to get airplanes wheelchair accessible!
  • Personal Wheelchairs: A presentation describing wheelchair variables including structure and operational features (tilt/recline), and what is the future of wheelchair technology. All of these need to be considered. 
  • Wheelchair restraint systems:  A presentation describing current knowledge of wheelchair restraint systems and motor vehicles and considerations required for restraint systems in passenger aircrafts. 
  • Aircraft engineer perspective:  A presentation describing research and analysis already made to address engineering and technical challenges for wheelchairs to be in-cabin. 
  • Airline perspectives:  Asking the same engineering and technical questions, this presentation describes the perspective from American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
  • Wheelchair manufacturing perspective:  A presentation describing technical challenges for a person in a wheelchair to sit in-cabin. Considers wheelchair design, operational steps, constraints for the person in a wheelchair, and testing.  Also describes research and development efforts that have taken place already from the wheelchair industry.   Sunrise Medical and Invacare were a part of this presentation.
  • Equal level of service:  This was a topic to help define equal level of service considering different magnitudes of disabilities. 
  • Operational panel:  A presentation providing flight attendant, airline, and contractor perspectives on the challenges that need to be overcome such as aircraft doors, aisles, onboarding and offboarding procedures, staff training, power wheelchair batteries etc.

The committee has three more meetings scheduled for the remainder of the year to continue discussions.  We commend the Airline Industry for being open and susceptive to the perspective of wheelchair users.  We are thankful for those in the Wheelchair Industry who have been supportive and present in our fight for equality.  Q'Straint has provided their wheelchair lock and restraint systems, and Quantum and Permobil have donated wheelchairs for testing, and they have been attending our working groups.  Invacare did not respond positively to in-cabin wheelchairs on airplanes but we hope to see them and Sunrise Medical in our working group meetings because many people in a wheelchair have their products.   We are working with all stakeholders within the wheelchair community to achieve daily quality of life through accessibility, including flying on an airplane!

Congress update

As you can imagine, progress is slow right now because of COVID-19.  If we are learning anything from this pandemic, it is the value of spending time with people and having quality of life.  This is the reason we are still working hard in our advocacy for accessibility on airplanes and doing whatever we can to continue pushing Congress in the right direction.

All Wheels Up was invited to work on a bill with Congress to fund grants for Aircraft Manufacturers, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), and Universities for research and development on Airplane Accessibility.
This is essential because fund allocation is not guaranteed when the allocation is reviewed during the next FAA Reauthorization Act five to seven years from now.  We cannot wait for funding so we are working this bill and on a letter campaign.  Please let us know if you are interested in helping us with this campaign!

Emergency Evacuation Procedures

There has not been any updates to the FAA's Regulations Advisory Circular 120-32 - Air Transportation of Handicapped Persons since 1977.  This means emergency evacuation procedures have not been updated since 1977!  When tighter seating was implemented!  In the 90-second evacuation rule, plans for emergency exclude pregnant women and excludes the disability community.  We are working on a letter campaign to ask Congress to fund the review of this outdated circular.  If not just to update the outdated language, the FAA should also address how the many recommendations in this circular have yet to be put into place by the airlines for people with disabilities.

Announcing New Program Offering Slings and Harnesses

While we wait for the FAA and the Airline Industry to implement a safety evacuation plan for wheelchair users, All Wheels Up is announcing a new program providing an ADAPTS evacuation sling and / or CARES harness at no cost so wheelchair users can feel safe while flying.  We are integrating with various disability coalitions to address community needs. This program is an extension of our work being done congressionally.  We will be formally announcing with a press release and application.  Please follow All Wheels Up on social media for these updates!


Your Air Travel Experience

Inaccessible Airplanes Affecting Ethan Beaudoin

Ethan Beaudoin (aka DJ E) is a 25-year-old Communication and Media Studies graduate from Regis University in Denver. He is a professional DJ for the Colorado Rumble FC Professional Arena Soccer and has worked at events for the Paralympics, college sports, music festivals, and social events.

Ethan uses both a manual wheelchair and a power wheelchair.  However, he has always used a manual wheelchair for air travel.  Like many of us who face physical impairments/mobility challenges, he looks forward to the day when he can start using his power wheelchair on flights without the likelihood of it breaking. For Ethan, inaccessible air travel has directly affected his ability to travel comfortably and independently with friends and family, and accept out-of-state DJ opportunities that would give him great exposure.  People with disabilities deserve the ability to live independent lives, share their talents, and contribute to society just like anyone else.  But in order for them to do this, they need to be able to travel comfortably and safely - just like everyone else.

Inaccessible Airplanes Affecting You

If you have a story where air travel has affected your career or independence, please share with us at

Our committee is also putting together a Go To  page on our website for wheelchair users planning a trip via airplane.  If you have any tips and tricks that you have learned, please feel free to share with us at

In Summary

All Wheels Up continues being a huge resource and working closely with the stakeholders that are critical to the conversation of Airplane Accessibility.  All Wheels Up continues to seize opportunities to spread the word through interviews, presentations, and meetings.  Please help us spread the word and consider the different ways you can help us move closer and closer to making airplanes wheelchair accessible.  If you would to be a sponsor, please reach out to us.  Thank you so much, and please stay safe.
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