In a heartbreaking video on TikTok, a disabled woman named Gabrielle deFiebre got off her Delta flight to find her power wheelchair had been damaged. Her friend Bri Scalesse documented deFiebre speaking to the airline and explaining how important it is for wheelchair users to have their own set of wheels.
The video began with the Delta employee saying:
"We have means of getting a wheelchair for you."
But deFiebre tried to make them understand her wheelchair is specifically made for her, as these power wheelchairs often are specifically designed for the user.
The on screen text from Scalesse said:
"Today my heart broke watching my best friend sob because Delta broke her wheels."
"She kept repeating, 'This is my life. This is the only way I can live my life.'"
Then deFiebre broke down in tears as they bring her a different wheelchair with the text overlayed:
"People in wheelchairs live in constant fear of airlines breaking our wheelchairs because it happens so often."
"I am so tired of watching my community suffer."
The video sparked outrage in the comments, but also love and support for deFiebre.
Many people tagged Delta Airlines' TikTok account to get their attention.
User cats_in_boots made an excellent point.
Scalesse did give an update video after the original gained so much traction, reaching 13.4 million views.
In the video, deFiebre said:
"It was obviously devastating to get off the plain and see that my wheels had been completely destroyed. It happens all the time to people and it shouldn't be something that happens."
"Delta says that they will cover the costs of the wheel replacement."
"While wen're in Pheonix I was able to, through our amazing community, find someone who had an extra set of the exact same wheels and I've been able to use that while we're here."
"But when I get home, I will not have the wheels that I used to get around, so hoping that they get replaced soon."
"But again, this shouldn't happen to anyone in our community ever."
Newsweek reported on Delta's comment from their spokesperson:
"We're so sorry that her wheelchair was damaged and have been in touch with her directly to make this right, including support to make repairs to her device."
"We know our customers with disabilities rely on Delta for their travel needs, and we fell short here."
"We're conducting a full investigation of what happened, because we must be better."
This issue has been going on for so long and is so pervasive, with so many lawsuits cropping up across the country, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois—who is a disabled military veteran—added a provision to the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration to make tracking and reporting incidents of wheelchair damage part of the law.
USA Today reported back in 2019:
"Between January and September—the latest month for which data is available—U.S. carriers reported having mishandled at least 7,747 chairs."
"That's an average of 29 times a day."
The outrage against Deltaalso reached Twitter where people shared their frustration and first hand accounts of damage to their wheelchairs.
Senator Duckworth shared the video on Twitter as well.
One possible solution was developed by Shane Hryhorec.
He created a collapsible wheelchair capable of fitting into overhead compartments. However Hryhorec has faced obstacles as well with airlines deciding his wheelchair needs to be classified as luggage and must go in the luggage compartment.
Another possible solution is creating a wheelchair compartment within the plane's cabin.
It's great Delta is taking action to right this incident, but it's important it doesn't happen. It should not take public displays of a disabled community member's trauma on the internet to make change happen.
Though we can only hope the continued public pressure will affirm this issue is finally addressed for future disabled fliers.