Activists point out to the futility of India being a signatory to UN Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Air travel in India is anything but the hassle-free mode that centrally framed guidelines promise. That is what three differently abled persons, including a woman, learnt the hard way after they underwent a harrowing time at the airports in Chennai and Hyderabad.
Being forced into unfamiliar wheelchairs rather than the customised ones they use, being asked to cough up Rs. 16,000 so that the airliner could arrange an ambulift to get them on to the aircraft and being reduced to a spectacle when they were lifted, wheelchair and all, to the plane soured the flying experience of these persons with disability.
If Deepak, who relies on crutches, was forced to climb up a narrow flight of steps of a fold-in ladder used for smaller aircraft, Meenakshi and Rajiv were literally lifted with the wheelchairs into a Jet Airways carrier at Hyderabad.
The incident occurred on October 4.
“At the entry door, I had to balance myself with my head against the frame of the aircraft. What if I had fallen off the ladder and compounded my disability,” wondered Deepak as he narrated the ordeal to presspersons here.
The ordeal would repeat itself when the flight landed in Chennai.
The activists who are members of EkthA, an advocacy organisation for the rights of persons with neurological impairment and development disorders, said far from being an isolated incident, point out that such instances of humiliation of persons with disability at airports was a recurring feature.
This was in spite of the Civil Aviation Ministry framing guidelines in 2009 for Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability that laid down the framework for safe and hassle-free access to airports and aircraft for these sections.
According to the disability activists, their ordeal began right from the entry point at airports where personnel of the CISF making a fuss over their customised wheelchairs and insisting on using ordinary wheelchairs at the airport. Once inside, there was an inordinate delay in issuing boarding passes because they were told that the carrier did not have an ambulift to help them board the aircraft. They were then asked to pay Rs. 16,000 for the carrier to hire an ambulift from the airports authority.
“It was after a long argument over the civil aviation guidelines that the staff relented to issue boarding passes. Worse followed when we were lifted up along with the wheelchair by personnel who were neither trained for nor sensitive to the situation,” said Meenakshi.
Pointing to the futility of India being a signatory to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the activists said the flying experience of the disabled in India was in sharp contrast to some international carriers who took great care of passengers with special needs.
“We are not asking for anything extravagant. We are only asking that the existing guidelines be followed by airports and carriers,” said Meenakshi.