The literal meaning of Philadelphia’s name in Greek is the “City of Brotherly Love,” and transportation officials are working to ensure the city lives up to that title for the more than 500 veteran wheelchair athletes traveling to Philadelphia for the 34th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), which run August 11-17, 2014.
“All of our partners are really going out of their way more than I’ve ever seen to do everything possible to assist the athletes at the request of the [VA], knowing that these athletes deserve anything and everything,” said John Glass, operations manager at Philadelphia International Airport.
Ten months ago, the airport began gathering hundreds of volunteers, team coordinators, medical personnel as well as officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs to help plan for the arrival of wheelchair athletes. The airport also has partnered with companies like UPS to handle the transport of chairs and Invacare to help with the assembly and repair of chairs.
The airport also enlisted the help of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure seamless travel for athletes and visitors traveling to the Games from the United Kingdom, and coordinated more than 40 local National Guard service members to serve on lift teams to assist athletes on and off the airplanes, Glass said.
Paralyzed Veterans of America in June conducted a two-day training with Transportation Security Administration personnel on how they can best assist wheelchair athletes as well as handle their service animals and equipment for their outbound trip from Philadelphia, said Lee Page, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“The TSA managers we spoke to already undergo good training and handle wheelchairs on a daily basis,” Page said. “But it was a good refresher for them, and it also helped us educate them about what the Games are all about.”
The airport will keep its usual procedures in place for handling services animals with each airline having its own procedures for accommodating them, Glass said. The airport has seven animal relief areas called Pet Ports situated across the various terminals, and customer service agents have been trained to guide travelers to those locations, he added.
“Our goal is to have all of the athletes want nothing but to say positive things about the airport and tell folks they know that Philadelphia is ready to handle them, whether it be for the Wheelchair Games or any day of the week,” Glass said.
Meanwhile, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) in 2013 began preparing the city’s bus system to handle the influx of wheelchair athletes in the city for the Games. In coordination with city officials and the Philadelphia VA office, SEPTA retrofitted 22 of its 40-foot buses, removing all of the lower seats and replacing them with tie-down equipment to accommodate athletes’ wheelchairs.
SEPTA buses will be used to transport athletes and guests to and from event locations, the Philadelphia airport and other locations across the city.
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are co-presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Learn more about the National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.