Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Posts tagged ‘airlines’

Protest against the discrimination meted out to Rajiv Ranjan by Air Sahara

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.

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Flying beyond discrimination

IN PERSPECTIVE

Airline companies must evolve an inclusive, disability friendly, non-discriminatory policy.

It is generally accepted that there are about 60-70 million persons with disabilities in the country, 12 million of these are believed to be visually impaired. The general citizenry in their ignorance about people with disabilities often dismiss them as inconsequential members of society. Yet most of us, who either live or work with people with disability, know that they live pretty normal lives even after all the “hurdles” we put up for them. Of special interest are people with visual impairment and the tremendous problems they face from sheer lack of policy and some would argue thoughtlessness.

Recently, a friend with visual impairment was detailing an incident of high handedness and the arbitrary policy of a prominent airline. The airline it seems prevented him from boarding a flight because it was their policy that a person with visual impairment be accompanied by an escort. My friend argued that like most other people with visual impairment, he had a job, he had a family, travelled frequently by trains and other public transport and if he was capable of all this why then did he need an escort when flying.

Excuses

The airlines refuted, saying that in an emergency it would not be possible for the airline staff to give him individual assistance and he would be required to follow instructions for which they assumed he would need help. Anybody acquainted with persons with disabilities would immediately suggest that the way out would be to print instructions in Braille and give the person a few minutes orientation before boarding the flight. In an emergency any greater than that which calls for using basic safety equipment, not just a person with visual impairment but even the rest of the passengers would not be able to do much to save themselves.

But with the deep seated mentality of “exclusion” with which most of our facilities functions, it becomes easier for the airline company to propose a more expensive suggestion and thus prevent thousands of people from travelling. It was later learnt that the airlines had no policy for people with visual impairments and was actually following an International Air Transport Association recommendation!

Today, the cost of air travel is dropping and persons with disabilities not just visual impairments but with locomotor disabilities, speech and hearing impairment, multiple disabilities and cerebral palsy besides others, find it easier to save themselves time and the hardships of long hours of travel, by opting for a flight.

Action taken

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, chapter eight is on non-discrimination and specifically mentions transport. People with disabilities are demanding accessibility in buses and trains, and the Government is fortunately investing in infrastructure to make these increasingly disabled friendly. MD of the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Madhu recently explained how the BMRCL planned to make the metro accessible. He promised more meetings with people with disabilities, when the architectural plans were being finalised. Why then are the airline companies lagging behind?

In the case filed by Javed Abidi against the Centre, airports were directed to respect the dignity of wheelchair users and provide them with ambu-lifts to enable them to board the flight, this not withstanding the Governments plea on the lack of funds.

Persons with disability are valuable consumers and should not be discriminated against. Airline companies should evolve a policy that is “inclusive”, “disability friendly” and “non-discriminatory”. Their policy should be in keeping with the spirit of The Persons with Disabilities Act 1995. The Policy should take into consideration the different types of disability and evolve a policy on each of them, rather than plaster a single policy on all disabilities. Today, technology has evolved much and is becoming cheaper to access; it should be used by airline companies to widen their consumer base by including people with disabilities.

The above article was published in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald on 1st September 2006

http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/Sep12006/editpage161072006831.asp

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