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Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards


Audience Honor in Call to Action


The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) has been at the forefront of advocating for accessible air travel. 10,559 wheelchairs or mobility aids were damaged by airlines from January 2023 to November 2023 projected to surpass the previous where over 11,000 were reported.  The organization's #AccessibleAirTravel campaign aims to improve air travel for people living with disabilities. With the Federal Aviation Act (FAA) Reauthorization Act expiring in 2023, this was our opportunity to improve air travel for people living with disabilities while flying. It was time to urge Congress to prioritize accessible air travel during this FAA Reauthorization Act.

The disability rights community has been steadfast in urging decision-makers to improve air travel, with this type of travel being the only one not covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or adapted to those traveling with disabilities. Still, these efforts have run into roadblocks in the goal of enacting real change. 2023 FAA Reauthorization was MDA’s best opportunity to improve air travel, but the window of time was very limited. To see substantial improvements and with time constraints to educate people and influence decision-makers, the effort had to grab the public's attention to increase advocacy efforts. Ultimately, the goal was to create change and a more inclusive air travel experience.

Strategy and Execution

While advocates have traditionally relied on storytelling and statistical evidence to convey the difficulties encountered while flying with a disability, there’s profound efficacy in highlighting actual experiences to those who may not see or experience these challenges firsthand. Individuals with disabilities are often first to board and last to disembark, shielding other passengers from witnessing obstacles they navigate. The public remains unaware of the dehumanizing process of being lifted out of a wheelchair, transferred to a dangerous aisle chair, and lifted again into an airplane seat. The repercussions of a damaged wheelchair can cost upwards of $50,000 and take weeks to repair.

To illustrate the pressing need to create change, MDA partnered with Strategic Elements to create unfiltered videos depicting the stark realities of air travel users. These serve to evoke emotions in viewers that may not be elicited through storytelling or images.

The strategic timing of this campaign proved instrumental to its success, capitalizing on a key window of opportunity where decisions could favorably impact change. When these videos debuted in the Spring and Summer of 2023, key legislative Committees were finalizing the details of the FAA Reauthorization bill.

To create a powerful message, we showed the most accurate and authentic day of travel for someone using a wheelchair; we created two documentary-style videos following MDA advocates and influencers, Madison Lawson and Mindy Henderson, also

MDA's VP of Disability Outreach and Empowerment and Editor-in-Chief of Quest Media. These unedited videos showed their realistic and challenging journeys from arrival to exit.  By leveraging trusted community voices like Mindy and Madison, the campaign garnered credibility and resonated with audiences.

In addition to these videos, an extensive social media campaign was deployed, utilizing platforms including Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, Instagram, and LinkedIn to distribute the message and urge public participation, including Facebook ad and YouTube pre-video ads. Madison and Mindy leveraged their social media following to unveil the videos, driving traffic to the campaign website, and promoting the videos. Mindy and Madison utilized their social following to debut the video and create support for legislative action, including the campaign website to invite people to join and act.  Finally, this campaign was promoted through press opportunities, even debuting Madison's video via Forbes.

The production of these videos had logistical hurdles, including obtaining footage within the airport despite potential resistance from TSA, airport, and airline personnel. This required dedication of courageous volunteers, staff and film crew to authentically capture realities faced by individuals with disabilities during air travel.


The goal of this campaign was to create change. In June 2023, the House and Senate committees released their base FAA Reauthorization bills. The House passed its bill in July, which included improving training standards when assisting passengers who use wheelchairs, strengthening the process for people who believe their rights were violated, and shared a concrete timeline for wheelchair users to be able to stay in their wheelchairs during flight. The Senate Commerce Committee also just passed the FAA Reauthorization. Now both the Senate and House must come together on a joint bill before sending to the President.

MDA advocates successfully advocated for many of the reforms in both bills, including over 10,000 letters sent to Congress. The #AccessibleAirTravel campaign alone resulted in over 5,600 messages sent to Congress, constituting roughly 50% of the messages communicated through MDA in 2023. Among these 5,600 messages, 31.43% (1,760) were initiated by new action-takers.

After showing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator the video featuring Mindy Henderson, TSA wanted to meet with MDA/Mindy to discuss. The result of that conversation was a publicly announced partnership between TSA and MDA to improve the experience people living with disabilities face going through airport security.

Mindy also had the opportunity to be interviewed on national news stations to discuss accessible air travel and airlines handling of wheelchairs.

Mindy was invited to attend an event co-hosted by the White House and US Department of Transportation (DOT), where DOT plans to make an announcement about protecting wheelchair users while traveling.

The #AccessibleAirTravel campaign spearheaded by MDA and Strategic Elements exemplifies the importance of advocacy in creating change. Through compelling storytelling, strategic timing, and robust engagement efforts, the campaign succeeded in amplifying awareness, gaining public support, and moving forward legislative action to enhance accessibility and inclusivity in air travel.


Entrant Company / Organization Name

Muscular Dystrophy Association