Disabled athlete sues airport after claiming he was 'forced' to drag himself across the floor

Disabled athlete sues airport after claiming he was 'forced' to drag himself across the floor

Despite the huge steps taken in recent years to make public spaces more accessible for people with disabilities, there are still many ways in which we can improve and make the world are more accepting place.

There are plenty of small ways in which the independence or comfort of disabled people are infringed upon that we need to be alerted to. For instance, the experience of paraplegic athlete Justin Levene in an airport caused him to speak up, sharing what happened to him in order to raise awareness of his and other similar experiences.

The 29-year-old herniated a disc at the age of 20, but the operation to fix it went wrong, leaving him paralysed below the waist. Now, he relies on a self-propelling wheelchair in his daily life, and has overcome these challenges to become an athlete, as well as a trainer and mentor to others.

He is now suing London's Luton Airport, providing footage to the BBC of an incident in which he had to drag himself across the floor, after his wheelchair didn't arrive after a flight.

The staff had offered to push him in a stiff, high-backed chair, but he declined as he believe it restricted his independence, leaving him feeling "humiliated".

"I was angry that none of the staff seemed to understand the position or seemed to have any empathy for what was happening," he told the BBC. "There should be appropriate equipment in every single airport."

"If something does happen, no-one should be put in the position that they are forced to crawl through the airport or drag themselves along the floor. And there should be some form of equipment to move themselves independently. Someone whose chair is their legs shouldn't be forced to be reliant on others for help."

"I've worked very hard for a number of years to try and maintain all of my independence. To be in one of the chairs they were offering would make me feel humiliated and degraded.

"They insisted in trying to strap me down in it. I wouldn't have been able to adjust myself, and would have been at risk of getting a pressure sore."

However, despite his criticism of the airport, their official statement has not accepted any wrongdoing. Although they agree with his description of events, they stated that they "worked hard to find a solution" and offered him a temporary replacement they felt was acceptable.

"Mr Levene declined all offers of help as he deemed them unacceptable," the statement read. "While we apologise if Mr Levene was dissatisfied with the service he received, we are satisfied that our agents and staff did all they could in difficult circumstances."

Sue Willman, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn, Levene’s solicitors, has explained that the choice to sue Luton Airport is not about the money whatsoever - but about “access to justice”.

Svetlana Kotova, who hails from the disability equality charity Inclusion London, said it institutions should be able to provide assistance "in a way that promotes our independence". "We are customers too and we should be valued and treated with dignity and respect," she added.