Disability advocates speak out in support of Avery Ottenbreit

I read this article on Canada.com and I wanted to share it with you because it is just another example of how more of us need to be more understanding and compasionate towards others that have a disability of any kind. This article was very touching and I believe that many out there will appreciate it for what it has to offer.

One day after Avery Ottenbreit’s return to the Queen City, disability advocates in Saskatchewan spoke out in support of the Regina teenager.

The 15-year-old quadriplegic’s trip home from Ottawa was delayed because of WestJet’s refusal to allow her to fly using her personal comfort harness.

Michael Richter, the executive director of the South Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre, was upset that WestJet delayed Avery’s trip because the airline deemed the harness unsafe for air travel.

“I would go as far to say that Avery’s harness would definitely be considered a personal disability aid,” Richter said Friday. “The denial of its use could be considered discriminatory under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“WestJet contends that it was a safety issue for her to be flying, but if the plane was going down I think the last worry on other passengers’ minds would be that the disabled girl’s seat might be dangerous. Meanwhile, the airline serves alcohol on its flights knowing full well that some passengers might require a cab when the plane has landed.”

Faith Bodnar, the executive director for the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living, echoed Richter’s feelings.

“I think that by making this decision, WestJet needs to realize that this is a human rights issue with her rights to travel and they have a duty to accommodate her,” said Bodnar. “Unless they want to recognize her rights as any Canadian citizen to travel and the duty to accommodate her, they risk having these kinds of things taken through the courts.”

WestJet officials were unavailable for comment.

Avery and her family hope that the whole ordeal will serve as a lightning rod to spark the debate for accessibility in airplanes for people with disabilities.

“Before Avery left Ottawa she briefly talked to Steven Fletcher,” Randy Ottenbreit, Avery’s father, said in reference to the quadriplegic MP of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia in Manitoba.

“One of the things he said to her was, ‘Don’t worry, you will fly again.’ ”

Because she was barred from flying on a commercial flight, Avery was flown home on an air ambulance paid for by WestJet. It arrived in the early hours of Friday morning, ending a long day of stressful waiting by Avery in Ottawa.

At home, Avery was just happy to be back in her parents care. Her ordeal was one that would be dreaded by any seasoned traveller, let alone one with cerebral palsy flying by herself for the first time.

Avery had been in Ottawa since June 27 at an Active Living Alliance conference for Youth with Disabilities. Avery had flown on an airplane before she travelled to Ottawa, but on this trip she was unaccompanied by her parents.

When Avery travels she uses a harness to hold herself up in her seat to stay comfortable because she has no control of the trunk of her body.

Avery was able to fly to Ottawa using the harness, but on the return trip she encountered an obstacle that proved incredibly troublesome.

When WestJet deemed the harness unsafe for air travel and refused to let her fly home on its commercial flight, Avery was left in Ottawa with only her travelling companion, Nicole Butlin, for company.

As a precocious young woman, Avery was very upset at being left behind and not being able to see her parents.

On Friday, at home, she was brought to tears at the mere thought of her frightening experience.

“I just wanted to come home,” she said. “In Ottawa we did rock climbing and tubing, but after that I wanted to see my parents.”



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