While researching and writing my article on emergency airplane evacuations for wheelchair users, I reached out to each of the three major U.S. airlines and multiple flight attendants to learn about evacuation procedures. My friend Robin Wearley, a retired flight attendant, was among them. She confirmed what I already knew: that airlines have no plan to ensure my safety or yours in an emergency.

In sharing my article with WheelchairTravel.org readers and the disability community at large, I was troubled by the reaction. Wheelchair users expect to die in an airplane emergency. They don’t believe that assistance will come in time, or that they’ll be able to evacuate the plane with other passengers.

ADAPTS, A Disabled Passenger Transfer Sling, useful in emergency airplane evacuations.
ADAPTS, A Disabled Passenger Transfer Sling, useful in emergency airplane evacuations.

We can do better. We can develop a plan that will save lives. And so, based on our conversation and with my input, Robin did just that. She created ADAPTS, a safety device that will expedite the evacuation of mobility-impaired passengers in an airplane emergency.

What is ADAPTS?

ADAPTS, A Disabled Passenger Transfer Sling, is a device that can be used to quickly transport passengers with disabilities and injured people to safety anywhere a disaster strikes. It dramatically improves the speed of evacuations and limits the likelihood of additional evacuation-related injuries.

Mock-up of an airline passenger seated on ADAPTS.
Mock-up of an airline passenger seated on ADAPTS.

Passengers with disabilities sit or transfer onto ADAPTS, which fits directly overtop airplane seats (whether in economy, premium economy, business or first class). The sling cradles the body from the head to the knees, while handles at the ends and on each side allow as few as two people to lift and carry an injured or disabled person to safety.

Product design and specifications for ADAPTS.
Product design and specifications for ADAPTS.

ADAPTS is water-resistant and flame retardant, making it useful in any emergency – not only those on airplanes. The product can be used in many scenarios and is adaptable to the particular needs of individual users. ADAPTS is designed to be quick and easy to use in all scenarios, and will dramatically increase the likelihood of a safe evacuation and survival.

What is at stake?

Making air travel safer for wheelchair users will save lives. It’s as simple as that. Unless we outfit every aircraft with an ADAPTS device, people will die. That’s not sensationalism: with increasing numbers of wheelchair users taking to the skies, it is only a matter of time until a passenger with a disability is involved in an airplane evacuation. ADAPTS will help air crews evacuate immobile (and immobilized) passengers to safety.

The airlines aren’t going to buy-in to ADAPTS without significant public support. They fought the Air Carrier Access Act, and will continue to fight any regulations which improve the passenger experience for travelers with disabilities. But ADAPTS isn’t an amenity – it is a life-saving safety device, just as important to people with disabilities as the life jacket.

Purchase an ADAPTS Sling for use in an emergency

The official launch of ADAPTS took place in 2017 at the Abilities Expo in San Mateo, California. I visited the ADAPTS team at their booth and donned their yellow t-shirt to show my support for this critical device. If you care about your own safety or the safety of people with disabilities, you can purchase an ADAPTS sling of your own from the ADAPTS website.

ADAPTS Team & supporters at the Abilities Expo in San Mateo, California.
ADAPTS team & supporters at the Abilities Expo in San Mateo, California.

Ultimately, we hope that ADAPTS will be included in every airplane emergency kit — a critical lifesaving device should be available for the benefit of disabled airline passengers and any passenger who may become injured in the course of an airline emergency.

As more disabled passengers take to the skies and a wheelchair securement space for airplanes is in the works, airlines need to carefully consider how they will care for disabled travelers in an emergency.

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