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Earlier this month, Hideto Kijima was getting ready to board his Vanilla Air flight departing from the Japanese resort island of Amami. He had no trouble on the outbound flight getting on the plane, but this time would be a different story.

Instead of a normal gateway to board the plane, flights at Amami airport (ASJ) require passengers to climb a set of stairs to get on the aircraft. Vanilla Air staff told Kijima, who uses a wheelchair, that he would only be allowed to board the flight if he could get up the stairs himself. He told staff that his friends could help him up to the plane, but they insisted that safety regulations required him to be able to board himself. One of the staff members even allegedly said that “people who cannot walk cannot fly.”

At that point, Kijima got out of his wheelchair and started crawling up the set of 17 stairs. He eventually dragged himself to the top, but only after the staff tried to stop him.

After learning about the incident, Vanilla Air issued an apology to Kijima, who heads the Japan Accessible Tourism Center. Vanilla airlines, which is a subsidiary of ANA, said it will take new measures to help wheelchair users at Amami airport and to improve the experience for disabled travelers boarding the plane.

“It is discrimination to stop people boarding a plane just because they cannot walk,” Kijima told Japan Today.

According to Japan Today, some airlines do allow staff members to carry passengers aboard aircraft, but Vanilla Air does not due to safety concerns. The New York Times reported today that Vanilla Air ordered an electric wheelchair lift for its planes on Amami after the incident — which went into service on Thursday.

Japan is considered to be behind other Western countries in terms of infrastructure accessibility and legal rights for the disabled. Of course, these incidents aren’t exclusive to Japan; earlier this year a wheelchair-bound man with cerebral palsy was removed from an American Airlines flight.

H/T: Japan Today

Featured image courtesy of lkarasawa via Flickr.

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