11 Sep 2012

Disabled dancer’s pain at airline wheelchair damage

No Fly Britain: A wheelchair dancer who performed in the London 2012 cultural celebrations tells Channel 4 News how his career was threatened by airline damage to his chair.

Disabled dancer's pain at airline damage

Edu O is a renowned dancer and choreographer from Brazil, currently performing with Candoco Dance Company – a dance troupe which brings together international artists, both disabled and non-disabled, from across the globe.

Last week they stormed the London 2012 festival at London’s Southbank Centre with their latest performance, Unlimited Commission, as part of the cultural programme surrounding the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

But Edu O might never have made it after his wheelchair was damaged on a flight from the UK to Brazil in 2011.

It’s like losing the legs for me. Edu O, dancer

“When the chair arrived in Brazil, two parts of the chair were broken. It was impossible for me to move by myself… it’s like losing the legs for me,” he told Channel 4 News.

Because Edu O performs with his chair, while it was being repaired he could not work as the rented replacement was too large and heavy for him. It also did not fit in his elevator in his building, making it difficult to even leave his flat. In the end he had to buy a new chair, at his own expense, because he was facing weeks unable to live or work properly.

He feels the compensation offered by the airline he flew with, TAP, was inadequate, and he is still in dispute with them.

A spokesman for TAP said: “Currently there are legal proceedings going on, once the passenger did not accept (in the first place) the wheelchair given by the company in order to substitute the damaged one. As long as we are aware, negotiations are still going on between the company and the passenger towards reaching a final settlement of this issue.”

He added: “In what regards TAP policy about the transportation of passengers with special needs, we inform that the company complies with all international regulations applicable.”

For his performance in London, former wheelchair basketball Paralympian and London 2012 torchbearer Joe Gilbert donated a dancing chair for Edu O.

“Without that donation, we would have struggled to get Edu performing for us tomorrow,” said Nadja Dias, head of touring at Candoco.

Sadly, both Edu O and Candoco say his story is all too familiar – as Channel 4 News has also discovered in its No Fly Britain investigation.

Rebecca Dawson, the executive director of Candoco, said problems with logistics were the main barrier for companies like Candoco and projects like Unlimited.

“Unlimited is an unprecedented project, designed to encourage deaf and disabled artists to extend their practice and to showcase the depth and diversity of talent on the world stage.

“However the infrastructure available to support these large scale international collaborations is not yet in place, and the biggest hurdles we have encountered while developing this project have been in the logistics of travel and accomodation for disabled artists,” she said.

Pedro Machado, Candoco’s creative director, said attitudes need to change before society can ever become truly equal – for example, he believes the question of why the company has disabled dancers is problematic.

“For me, that’s how it is. I would more easily put the question to exclusive companies, why don’t they work like that… Quite often we think about including disabled people into everything but it is more the other way round – we need to include what we do in a way which is accessible to everybody,” he said.