Its encouraging to know that equitable and dignified flying for the elderly and those experiencing disability is now a major plank for not only CSR activities but also a way to giving boost to the airline business. AirAsia takes lead by representing at a Regional Conference of APCD. Read more on this news item in Travel Monitor section of Bangkok Post
Although all airlines facilitate travel by PwDs, AirAsia has been faster at capitalising on the marketing and corporate social responsibility benefits of this service as an intrinsic part of its "now everyone can fly" marketing slogan.
With an estimated 400 million people suffering from disabilities in Asia Pacific, half of whom women, and 58 million in the Asean countries, the market opportunity is clear. As most PwDs also travel along with a care-giver, the prospective revenue stream doubles.
Although CEO Tony Fernandes himself did not make the presentation at an Aug 19-20 meeting on South-to-South Cooperation on Disability, he was robustly featured in its various slides, addressing and mingling with several beaming PwDs in wheelchairs.
The meeting was organised by UN Escap in cooperation with the Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability (APCD), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
The objective was to assess progress made by countries in implementing the projects and programmes under the second Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 2003-2012 and to look into the prospects of initiating a Third Decade.
Tanin Kraivixien, the APCD president, said that for the first time, the focus of this year's meeting was the Asean sub-region in order to help create a sub-regional mechanism to cooperate in developing legislation and policies related to equal opportunities and inclusive development for PwDs.
He added: "The Asean sub-region can be a model sub-region to promote disability and development policies and legislation."
Noting that the APCD has more than 1,000 ex-trainees and approximately 200 associate organisations in Asia Pacific, Mr Tanin said that this year's meeting was "epoch-making since the social business sector has been invited to join."
AirAsia was represented by Kenneth Chan, chief for guest services, along with representatives from the Mall of Asia in Manila, Standard Chartered Bank, amongst others.
Mr Chan acknowledged that AirAsia's policies when it first began operations were not all inclusive. Guests with reduced mobility were not appropriately catered for. However, after representatives from organisations of people with reduced mobility met with AirAsia to challenge its "everyone can fly" slogan, the airline admitted it had been wrong and decided to fix it.
The result was an "inclusive" policy that seeks to boost the human capital development of staff as well as enhance the services and facilities offered to passengers. The airline also decided to "champion the cause of guests with reduced mobility with government authorities, airport management, ministries, etc."
Stressing that a lot more can be done by the region's airports to install better facilities and services for PwDs,
Mr Chan said AirAsia "engages in constant dialogues with organisations representing people with reduced mobility to gauge travel needs and requirements - these may change with the course of time, and we have to be very up to date to render the best services."
Nanda Krairiksh, director for social development of Escap, hailed the contribution of key innovators from the private sector who had been invited to offer their expertise and share their experiences.
"Viewing persons with disabilities as contributors to our region's economic dynamism as entrepreneurs, employees or an emerging market segment not only helps to change outmoded stereotypes that we are all fighting against but also enhances everyone's prospects for prosperity," she said.
There are many challenges still to be addressed: "How can we work together to develop inclusive societies that deliver the best services and products and increase accessibility overall for persons with disabilities? How can we serve as mentors and models of change for others?," she asked.
Tackling complex problems requires innovation, "which is best achieved when many minds are strategically working together in an atmosphere of mutual trust, where yesterday's strangers are transformed into tomorrow's allies.
"While many existing laws, policies, plans and schemes might adopt ideal and inspirational language, significant implementation gaps, in terms of statements on what should be done and what is actually done, exist. Hence addressing this shortcoming, whether in the context of discrimination or the provision of accessible environments, remains a crucial area for action if measures are to effectively cater for the needs of persons with disabilities."
Escap's priority is to promote the adoption and ratification by all countries of the landmark UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force on May 3, 2008. So far, 88 countries have ratified the Convention worldwide.
Meanwhile, the first New Zealand Conference on accessible tourism, travel, and hospitality for people with disabilities and seniors will be held in Auckland on Oct 4 this year.
Further details: http://nztri.aut.ac.nz/accesstourismconference/index.html