Delayed delivery of the next-generation Air Force One will allow Boeing to add a wheelchair securement space and other accessibility features.
Did you know that the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a wheelchair user?
Prior to being elected president, FDR became paraplegic due to either polio or Guillain–Barré syndrome (it’a debated to this day). His disability was largely hidden from the public — possible because the widespread adoption of television did not come until decades later, and The White House placed restrictions on photography by members of the press.
Becoming the first wheelchair user to hold the office of president wasn’t his only record. Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to fly in an airplane, and it was for him that the first purpose-built presidential aircraft was designed.
That design included a surprising accessibility feature that is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Earlier this year, a conversation with a Wheelchair Travel reader led me to visit Dayton, where I saw the built-in elevator installed at the rear of FDR’s presidential aircraft (nicknamed “Sacred Cow”). That elevator was designed to lift the president into the aircraft cabin so that he could remain seated in his wheelchair!
My bold idea: Let’s Make Air Force One Wheelchair Accessible (Again)
Well, of course it should! In fact, it should be universally accessible.
The 21st century presidential aircraft
should must have wheelchair securement spaces, ADA compliant bathrooms, barrier-free paths of travel, hearing loops, tactile markers, braille signage — and so much more!
Making Air Force One wheelchair-friendly would send a message to the world that the United States of America is serious about accessibility and the inclusion of disabled people — and also, perhaps, that the modern American presidency is itself accessible.
Today, wheelchair users and other people with disabilities hold elected office, both locally and nationally — and those leaders may one day aspire to the presidency. Here are two high-profile individuals that come to mind:
- Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas
- Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Senator from Illinois
Lately, America’s presidents have been breaking records for their advanced age and, while we don’t wish for it, disability becomes more likely as people (and presidents) grow older. Applying universal design principles to Air Force One would future-proof the presidency, ensuring it remains accessible to a disabled leader, whoever that may be (including YOU!).
Improved accessibility would also permit disabled governors, senators, representatives, staffers, journalists and citizens to hitch a ride on Air Force One — a place where disabled people have just as strong a right to belong as their nondisabled peers. This is America’s airplane, after all.
Why this advocacy campaign is really important and how to get involved!
Like many of you, I have been advocating for a wheelchair space on commercial airlines for years and, with the introduction of the Air4All seating system earlier this year, I believe that we are finally in the “red zone” and approaching the goal line (an American football reference).
Placing Air4All or another wheelchair securement system onboard Air Force One can accelerate airline adoption of the same — and head off the protests they are sure to raise (airlines fought with tooth and nail against the Air Carrier Access Act and they will likely oppose a mandatory wheelchair space too).
The accessibility features that this campaign calls for belong on any truly accessible and inclusive aircraft — it’s past time. We must open the door to equal access, on Air Force One and on every other passenger aircraft.
To learn more about how you can get involved in this campaign, visit the Make Air Force One Wheelchair Accessible web page — please visit the link, share it with your friends, and write to your representatives to make this dream a reality.
One last thought from FDR…
In his second inaugural address on January 20, 1937, President Roosevelt remarked on the importance of responding to the needs of every American:
We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful, law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous.
With that, I encourage you to join the #AirForceOne4All campaign — tell President Biden, elected officials and the whole of the U.S. Government that the disability community is not superfluous, that the 1-in-4 Americans with a disability deserve to be included in government and in society, and that there is an urgent need for Equal Access Everywhere, including on Air Force One.
Let’s work together for Equal Access Everywhere,
Would you like to support the Wheelchair Travel Newsletter? Consider upgrading to a paid subscription (it costs less than a Netflix account!) and don’t miss this really cool FDR t-shirt, which is sold in the WheelchairTravel.org Shop. I don’t know about you, but I think he’s a president we can roll with. 😉