The recently announced partnership between the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and the Roosevelt Institute to re-establish the FDR International Disability Rights Award (FDRIDRA) is intended to raise awareness of the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. The recent experience of FDRIDRA Advisory Board Member Kersen DeJong onboard Turkish Airlines tangibly demonstrates the vital need for greater support and understanding this Award is meant to encourage.
When Mr. DeJong boarded a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam this past week, he was refused a seat that would accommodate his disability: two artificial legs. After being denied both bulkhead seating and an aisle seat, he was forced to separate his artificial legs from his upper body and drag himself to his seat with his hands. His artificial limbs were then stored by airline staff in an overhead compartment away from his assigned seat. All of this occurred while the flight crew and passengers looked on. At the end of the flight, Dutch customs officers had to assist him in literally putting himself back together before he could leave the airport.
“This incident is a shocking reminder of the challenges people with disabilities face every day. Mr. DeJong is a man of stature and well informed about disability laws, including laws governing public transportation and persons with disabilities. While he handled this deplorable incident with strength and determination, one shudders to think how a less informed and experienced person with a disability would be able to endure such a mortifying experience,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation. “We call on Turkish Airlines to apologize to Mr. DeJong and work to establish policies and practices that accommodate all of their travelers comfortably and compassionately.”
The FDR International Disability Award encourages and recognizes countries that make meaningful progress in upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UN Convention originated in 2007 and currently has 153 signatories and has been ratified by 112 countries.
Though the United States signed the Convention in 2009, the United States Senate has not yet ratified it. On May 17th, just one week before Mr. DeJong’s appalling experience on Turkish Airlines, President Obama sent the treaty to the Senate where it currently awaits approval. If you are as outraged as we are about Mr. DeJong’s treatment, we encourage you to contact your Senators and urge them to support ratification of the UN Convention for Persons with Disabilities immediately.