Disability justice advocate demands new wheelchair, public apology from British Airways
Global human rights and disability justice advocate Edward Ndopu is demanding a new wheelchair and a public apology from British Airways.
"Comair @British_Airways owes me a public apology & a new wheelchair," he wrote on his social media platforms on Wednesday afternoon.
Ndopu took to social media to voice his dissatisfaction about the damage to his power chair, which the airline's ground staff allegedly caused when he took a trip to and from Durban. Ndopu recently became the first African with a degenerative disability to graduate from Oxford University, where he obtained a master's degree in public policy.
"They damaged my state-of-the-art power chair on both legs of my trip to Durban, where ironically I was invited by the @WorldBank to give a keynote on disability inclusion," Ndopu wrote on his Facebook account and Twitter page.
"Upon disembarking on the first leg, I saw my chair from my window seat toppled over sideways & being manhandled by the ground staff as it came out of the hold of the aircraft on a conveyer belt. Because of this, several screws came loose," he complained.
Ndopu said his power chair's armrest was broken during the incident.
"I let it slide because I had to rush off to my World Bank keynote, where the Deputy Minister of Social Development was in attendance, & didn't have time to confront the Comair staff," he said.
Ndopu was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy at birth and given a life span of five years, but he defied all odds.
He has now embarked on a campaign to become the first physically disabled person to launch into space at the end of the year in honour of Nelson Mandela's legacy and as part of the centennial celebrations.
He alleged the airline damaged his chair again on his return trip.
"This time it came back in two pieces, with the backrest ripped off from the frame. The armrests were also chipped. I refused to let them get off the hook & reported the matter straight away. The ground staff tore off the tag attached to my wheelchair, which meant my flight details couldn't be captured for the purposes of lodging a complaint. They had to eventually fish out the tag from one of the dustbins before I could be helped," he wrote.
Ndopu wrote that a Comair supervisor later told him that he should not expect the airline to buy him a new chair "because according to their policy, disabled passengers are liable for whatever happens to their wheelchairs, even if the airline is responsible for any damages".
"So, in other words, it's my fault for travelling while disabled. It's precisely this discriminatory logic that perpetuates the social exclusion of disabled people. Of course, this had to happen to me as the country wraps up disability month," he said.
"Comair @British_Airways you need to issue a public apology and replace my wheelchair immediately. And you need to revise your policy, as it is in direct contravention of disabled people's right to freedom of movement," said Ndopu.
Celebrity's such as Maps Maponyane also reacted to Ndopu's tweets.
"Really sorry about what happened Eddie, I hope they take accountability," Maponyane tweeted.
However, Ndopu wasn't impressed.
"While I appreciate the acknowledgement, this is completely insufficient. Given that BA's name is emblazoned on the Comair aircraft, you need to do more than just send me a link to a claim form. I will be waiting for a more thoughtful & proactive response," he replied.
Shaun Pozyn, head of marketing at Comair told News24 on Thursday: "We regret the damage to Mr Ndopu’s wheelchair. We’re investigating the incident and are in contact with him.
"We’ll take appropriate action as soon as that investigation is complete. We strive for the highest standards of customer service and satisfaction and take corrective action when that’s not achieved."