Levene and Luton

By: A.C

This article at the BBC ( 2/11/2018)  raises uncomfortable questions that able –bodied and disabled people alike will have problems answering.

The article is about Justin Levene, a paraplegic traveller who uses a specialised self –propelling wheelchair with bespoke fitting and cushion to prevent sores which can appear quickly. Justin arrived at Luton Airport where he found his specialised wheelchair was missing. He refused help from the staff to transport him in a rigid back wheelchair to the terminal. He rejected that, asking for a motorised buggy instead, and being on informed they had none at that airport he chose to drag himself through the airport, finally using a baggage trolley to exit the terminal to the taxi rank.

Justin Levene herniated a disc in his spine through a simple cough, and subsequent surgery paralysed him. He has clearly channelled and focused his anger at being paralysed into being an athlete, using his energy for high –profile fundraising activities, and he has to be commended for that.

He had been quoted as saying he will sue the airport. The airport in its response felt that their agents and staff had fulfilled their duties.

Baroness Tanni Grey –Thomson, and BBC Security Expert Frank Gardner have both backed his stand as regards dignity and respect. His solicitor and a Disability campaigner have also backed his actions.

Levene admits he was angry, and as we know, anger can lead to rash decisions. I think anyone can understand the loss of luggage at the baggage reclaim and being stranded with only the clothes that one stands in.  . Entrusting a bespoke wheelchair to the airline or its agents resulted in its being left behind, and I think we can understand Mr Levene’s frustration, anger and upset, as the wheelchair represented the loss of his “legs”. When faced with a situation which has no apparent solution, because it will injure one’s dignity, or cause insult to a dearly held and cherished inner belief in one’s own independence, then one surely has to be calm, and think before acting. So It was indeed an unusual way to make a very visual “ lost luggage” application.  Mr Levene chose to make his point by dragging himself through the airport.

One should be mindful of one’s actions and learn to treat other human beings with respect and understanding. That is not one – sided advice, and applies to us all as we go about our daily lives, and should apply without question to Luton Airport management who undoubtedly needed to upgrade their thinking, and provide the required wheelchairs or transport for the disabled passengers who transit through their airport.

This story caused a lot of debate, and the outcome to the protest was published on the BBC.

Luton Airport now says it has acquired 10 self-propelled wheelchairs.

As well as the chairs, based permanently at the airport, the airport says its new provisions include:

  • A loan replacement system whereby it lends people equipment, such as wheelchairs, free of charge as well as organising and funding the returns process

  • Where it has pre-notification of a requirement for very specialised mobility equipment, it has an arrangement in place with a local disability resource centre who will assist the airport in sourcing such items.

Mr Levene is quoted as saying “I hope that media coverage has helped raise awareness of issues around the mobility needs of disabled travellers.

“We simply want to get from A to B with as much dignity and independence as possible.”

In this particular case, the extreme method used by Mr Levene has had positive outcomes.

Although I respect and applaud his right to independence and dignity, I think any similar such action by others may not have such positive and fast outcomes

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