Stacy Ellingen

Stacy's Journal: Is Outer Space Accessible?

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By: Stacy Ellingen
Posted in: Stacy's Journal

Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos. Elan Musk. Michael Strahan. Those are just a couple of the famous people who took a trip into space recently. Yes, there have been other people who went who had significant connections to space, but these trips have been funded by well-known billionaires. I had a chance to watch news coverage of the most recent one where the famous football player and news broadcaster, Michael Strahan, went up to space.

Ever since I was young, I have had an interest in outer space. My junior year of high school, I did my multi genera research project on John Glenn, who was a famous astronaut. Watching the coverage of the space launch made me think about what if I wanted to go? Albeit a little scary at first, but I can’t imagine how cool it’d be to be totally weightless. What would happen to my muscles? Now, realistically, that’d probably never be possible because obviously I’m nowhere close to being a millionaire, but I was thinking about the principle of it—what the if a person with a disability could afford it and had the desire to go? I did a quick Google search and found out that it cost over $55 million to go to the space. That’s just for one person and I’m assuming it’s for only a few minutes like the recent trips have been. Right now, very few people in general could afford that, but, as more and more of these trips become reality, the cost will likely eventually decrease. There is already talk going around about a “space tourism industry.” Will people eventually vacation in space? It’s bizarre to think about, but it seems like it’s quickly becoming reality. This brings up a frequent question in the disability community--will it be accessible?

When Bezos went to space this past summer, a meme went around on social media saying something to the effect, “Another billionaire went to space today. If this is possible, why can’t people who use wheelchairs fly without having their wheelchairs wrecked? Why can’t air travel be inclusive? “That wasn’t the exact quote, but the point was that if regular civilians can go to space, we should be able to make air travel inclusive. As a person who has experienced having their wheelchair ruined by the airlines, I completely agree with the statement. A few years ago, I wrote a journal entry about how my chair was ruined on a trip to Vegas. Unfortunately, it happened on the way there, so it kind of wrecked the vacation for my parents and I. Since then, when I fly, I take my manual wheelchair which makes me dependent on others for almost everything.

In my opinion, there’s a bigger issue around this conundrum. Considering we’re in the 21st century, why shouldn’t everything be inclusive? People with disabilities are one of the largest minorities in the world. When inventing new things and opportunities, regardless of what they are, inclusivity should be a factor in development. Yes, I understand this would make things more expensive and complex, but it’s time. I think back to my entry about the Eagle Tower in Door County--that’s a perfect example. It was knocked down due to safety concerns, and, when it was rebuilt, it was made accessible. Did it take longer and cost a lot more? Absolutely, but now a lot more people can enjoy it.  

While the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws have made a lot of things accessible, there is often a sense of frustration when people find out that things will take longer or cost more because they need to be made inclusive for everyone. As a person with a disability, knowing that people are frustrated because they have to wait longer or more money has to be spent to make something accessible, it saddens me. Am I not worth the wait or extra money? Now, of course, there are things that just can’t be made accessible. For those things, alternative options often can be made available. An example of this would be adaptive sports. They obviously aren’t the same as regular sports, but people with various limitations can experience what’s it’s like to play and compete.

Engineers are designing new airplanes and automobiles every day, why can’t we figure out how to get wheelchairs on planes? Yes, I understand it would take many years and billions of dollars to replace all the time airplanes, but, if we can send civilians to space, why can’t we figure out how to make wheelchair accessible cabins? Something doesn’t add up. While I understand the need and desire for extravagant recreational experiences, where does the need for accessibility fit in the priorities of the country? It’s definitely an interesting question to ponder. If we can send civilian tourists to space, we should be able to take flights in airplanes without our vital equipment being damaged. Unfortunately, I don’t foresee anything changing anytime soon. We, as a disability community, have to continue to make sure that we are seen and heard. That’s the only way changes are going to happen.

***The views expressed here are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of InControl Wisconsin, the Network or any of our sponsors.


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