After a few minutes of struggle Izzy hoisted herself to sitting, and eased her bruised feet from under the covers. One was wrapped in a cast like a club. The effort made her ribs ache. Gripping her gown for support, she pushed off the bed and stood. An alarm went off.
Determination creased her jaw as she took a step. She was going to make it to the door of her room before the nurses put her back in bed.
“Oh no,” said the nurse, stepping into the room with half-extended arms ready to catch her at any moment. “Back in bed. You’re not walking for another week.”
“The conference is next week. I need to be more than walking by then.”
“Hm.” He guided her back to bed in the corral of his outstretched arms.
“Listen Izzy,” said Charlotte two days later. “I told management you couldn’t make it to the conference because of your accident, and they said not to worry and gave me this.” She placed a flat box on the table. “Take care of yourself and you can be on that stage with me at the next one.” She patted Izzy’s good knee under the covers.
At the conference, everyone was walking to the next thing, barely giving time to the latest they had arrived at as though any time not spent walking was wasted. In and around the people, robots wheeled slowly. Each held aloft a screen with a face on it, and surveyed the surrounding bustle through a webcam. A small drawer in the middle of each supported a stack of business cards.
Izzy maneuvered her robot among the crowd, propped up against the faintly yellow wall behind her headboard. She wore a professional blouse and, though the bruises from the airbag were still evident on her face, no one could tell that she was in the hospital.
As the rush of people between events waned, Izzy’s robot wheeled into the room where Charlotte was about to begin what had been a two-person presentation. When the moment for Izzy’s part arrived, her face appeared on the giant screen that looked over everyone. Larger than life.
All Wheels Up is a nonprofit dedicated to making air travel accessible to those with wheelchairs. Currently, they need to be lifted out of their wheelchairs–literally lose their legs–and hope that the airline will not damage or even lose their wheelchair. Anyone who has flown knows what a hassle it is to arrive without luggage, but imagine if that was your legs. All Wheels Up is working to persuade airlines to create spaces for wheelchairs like buses and trains have: an occupiable seat that can lift up and securing straps can accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
Alan Chaulet himself is an entrepreneur with other projects as well. Among them, a drone which allows people to virtually attend conferences from the comfort of their homes–not only watch the presentations but move about as they please, talk, and exchange virtual business cards, and another project to provide support for other disabled entrepreneurs.
All Wheels Up can be found at allwheelsup.org.
Listen to episode 202 below to hear more, or go to that episode.
Alan Chaulet: Right now, if you have a wheelchair, flying on an airplane is a nightmare because you have to get out of it even though it literally is your legs, and it costs tens of thousands of dollars. Right now, airplane travel…you really have to be incredibly brave to fly, with your wheelchair ‘cause so many times they get damaged and even lost.
Alan Chaulet: Air travel is gonna double in the US in the next 20 years.
Alan Chaulet: Right now, the only disability regulation that they’re dealing with is something called the Air Carrier Access Act, and that was passed in ‘86 and basically just says that airplanes can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. So it’s like they can give us tickets but they can’t give us much else.
Alan Chaulet: I always wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was six years old.
Alan Chaulet: When we started off we got a contract with the company that makes the existing wheelchair restraints that are used on buses and taxis so what we’ve been doing is doing crash tests to show that they can meet the regulations for flying on airplanes.
Alan Chaulet: Right now, entrepreneurs with disabilities, they have some great ideas but they’re constantly overlooked and they need help becoming businesses.
Alan Chaulet: Right now in Boston, the MBTA buses…you lift up the seat and then the wheelchair tie downs are right down there.