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RDU class looks to improve travel for wheelchair-bound passengers

Posted September 8

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— Airports are busy places, filled with people, computer screens and luggage that can make it difficult to navigate from the curb to the plane. It's hard enough for most people, but for travelers in a wheelchair, it can be even more challenging.

"Flying is intimidating anyway, and to be doing it all in a wheelchair where I cannot walk, can't even move my legs, it was a major intimidation," said Bill Keown.

Keown was once a frequent flier, but since his accident he's accumulated more questions than miles.

"What do I do with my wheelchair? I know I can’t go all the way to the gate with it. At some point I’m going to have to get up and get put into a wheelchair," he said.

He mentioned his concerns to his WakeMed rehab nurse, who then sent the word up the chain of command.

Now, there’s a new class at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on airport navigation for people in wheelchairs.

"The issue is basically maneuverability," said Winston May, who has a wheelchair.

Nearly a dozen travelers with limited mobility attended the workshop on Thursday.

"I have to watch so I don't run on somebody's heels," May said. "I have to take my time. I just don't need to be in a rush."

May said he likes to arrive early.

"You know you can’t go through the metal detector, so they have to wand you I guess," he said.

For Keown, the concerns do not end at the gate.

"What's going to happen to my chair now? When it disappears and goes into baggage and I'm sitting in a manual wheelchair and who's taking care of me?" he said.

The new program covers everything including parking, ticketing, baggage and wheelchair storage. Organizers say they want to make the class a regular event."


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