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Disability Activist Engracia Figueroa Dies After United Air Destroyed Custom Wheelchair

Care Can't Wait Day Of Action WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: Artist Paola Mendoza and Engracia of Communities of Care hug at the "Communities of Care" art install at Freedom Plaza on July 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. Thousands of care workers marched from the National Mall near the US Capitol, down to Freedom Plaza to rally for workers’ rights and fair pay. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Care Can't Wait)

Disability activist Engracia Figueroa has passed away, due to complications from injuries she suffered after United Airlines destroyed her wheelchair—highlighting, another way that ableism is deadly.

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USA Today has reported that Figueroa developed a skin ulcer that became infected and had gastrointestinal issues, which caused her death at the age of 51.

How is United Airlines a part of this? Well, back on July 14, Figueroa boarded a United Airlines flight and, once the plane landed, discovered that her $30,000 custom wheelchair had been damaged by the airline.

“It was like my worst nightmare came true. My wheelchair is custom-made for me and my spinal cord injury. It’s a $30,000 machine that is not easy to replace, and without it, I am now stuck at home,” Figueroa said. United Airlines did provide Figueroa with a new wheelchair, but it took months for that to happen, all the while Figueroa was dealing with losing a key piece of her daily mobility and independence.

Via Hand in Hand the Domestic Employers Network:

“Engracia and Christine [Engracia’s friend and home care worker] were stuck in the airport for nearly five hours, during which Engracia was forced to sit in a broken manual wheelchair. Her struggle to maintain her balance over that length of time in the faulty device led to the development of a pressure sore. When she was finally able to return home, she experienced acute pain, and was admitted to the hospital shortly after.

Instead of replacing the demolished wheelchair, United Airlines insisted that they would only pay to have it repaired. But a motorized wheelchair that has undergone that much damage poses a severe risk of fire, and is unsafe. Furthermore, the loaner chair United provided further exacerbated her injuries.”

The lack of care that United took caused damage to Figueroa’s body and ultimately led to the injuries that led to her death. According to Hand in Hand, “on average, airlines damage or destroy 29 wheelchairs per day.” Those are 29 people per day who are being forced to deal with the physical and financial results of ableism.

United issued the following statement following the news: “We were saddened to hear about Ms. Figueroa’s passing and we offer our condolences to her friends and family.”

Saddened, but still could not take quick action or just be careful enough to ensure that wheelchair users can be safe as they travel.

(via Heavy, image: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Care Can’t Wait)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.

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