The treatment meted out to Rajiv Ranjan, the coordinator of the legal aid cell of Vidyasagar a Chennai based NGO working on disability, by Air Sahara on 18th June 2007 is despicable to say the least and yet it is just another grim reminder of the deep rooted bias and ignorance that people with disabilities encounter each day.
Checking the websites of Air Deccan, I learnt that they charge anywhere from Rs. 200 extra if the person is wheelchair bound and that is such a ridiculous if not a blatantly discriminatory thing to do. Bad enough a Person With Disability (PWD), due to his or her disability needs more than the average amount of money to sustain him/ herself and when you and I, able bodied people get discounts for flying why not PWDs who should be getting discounts and more.
When it comes to accessibility, bus stations, public places, railway stations are horribly inaccessible and disabled unfriendly. Rail and bus journeys being long, put undue stress of PWDs. Non disabled people are turning to air travel as a convenient means of transport, for PWDs air travel is a necessity more than convenience.
PWDs have been holed away for too long, they are desperately trying to come out of their homes and fulfill their aspirations like you and me. They have a right to live normal lives and aspire to it and yet all we can offer them is this shoddy treatment.
The problem is not with PWDs it is in our heads, in your head and mine, in the way we see the world and in the way we categorize people, into winners and losers. Rajiv Ranjan would be considered a loser. And in our fast paced world losers are not welcome, we don’t even want to see them. We like smart people, tick tocking around on their heels, their noses powdered, scented, in Van Husen or Koutons, who wants an awkward moving guy on the wheelchair around, or somebody blocking our window seat as he stumbles along. Our minds are so deeply convinced about what is normal and what is ‘abnormal’, where normal people should be and where ‘abnormal’ people should be, what normal people should be doing and what ‘abnormal’ people should be doing that the airline staff did not think twice (probably there was not much of grey matter in there anyway) about being rude and nasty. People like Rajiv Ranjan who with Spastic Cerebral Palsy have little control over their movements or even those who have floppy CP or Spina Bifida which results in a physical deformity, have an especially hard time because of our bias.
I really do not know whether the bias has any malicious intent but that it causes grave amounts of inconvenience, mental agony and frustration to people with disabilities, is definite. I say this because I myself knew close to nothing about disability just a little more than a year ago, however proceeding along this line of discussion brings out the whole aspect of the personal sensitivity one has or does not have on disability and this cannot be the response. There is no uniformity in sensitivity and a lack of it. What needs to be in place is a policy for airline companies on disability.
After India being signatory to every convention on disability including the recent United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection Of Rights And Full Participation) Act, 1995 being over a decade old it is a disgrace that blatant discrimination as that meted out to Rajiv Ranjan still persists.
What we need is for the National Disability Commissioner to take strong cognizance of this incident and showcase airline companies about why legal action should not be taken against them for discrimination according to The Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection Of Rights And Full Participation) Act, 1995 and why more than a decade later they still do not have a policy in place for people with disability.