Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sai Padma shares her experiences of discrimination while flying

Dear Friends,

Ms. Sai Padma, a fellow lawyer practicing in Andhra Pradesh and a wheelchair user shares her experiences of flying. 

She counts series of problems encountered at every step from booking to airport to issues in the aircraft at her blog Lotusbeats.

The Hindu : Arts / Magazine : Making our skies inclusive

Dear Friends,

Its the system of exclusive education prevalent in the country that is leading to non-acceptance of persons with disabilities in the mainstream says our dear friend Joe Chopra. here is the link to her article in The Hindu.

The Hindu : Arts / Magazine : Making our skies inclusive


Subhash C Vashishth

Indigo refuses ticket to Visually Impaired passenger thinking he can't travel alone

Dear Friends,

This time, Tony Kurian, a 22 year old Visually Impaired student of TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai faced discrimination from an airline which is known for its consumer friendly policies especially the persons with disabilities. 

Indigo is the only low-cost carrier that provides manual ramp to board the flight hence is popular among the persons with disabilities and the elderly.  Therefore, it is little surprising that they denied ticket to a visually impaired student on the pretext that he can not fly unless accompanied by an escort or a guide dog! Despite an apology, the student has been unable to book his tickets. 

It all boils down to one single issue, that is- the DGCA's CAR is not being implemented in its right earnest. The training issues are not being addressed by the airliners. What our colleague Joe Chopra in her article in The Hindu points out is equally true that due to our policies of exclusion in education - from where the right integration and acceptance begins- we are at this stage that people are required to be trained and sensitized on disability issues. Ms. Joe stresses that typical children who grow up in inclusive classrooms learn — at the very least — that disability is nothing to be afraid of. They learn that people may look different, yet can still be their friends. That a person who can't speak can still communicate. That you can't judge a book by its cover and that everyone has both strengths and weaknesses.

The incident further prove the fact that only 1 in 30 gets reported while others keep fighting/suffering in silence. We must create systems to check this menace and it can happen when we speak up for our rights and demand accountability from the service providers.

Here is the report from the DNA on this issue:

IndiGo suspends staff for refusing ticket to disabled

DNA India | YOGESH PAWAR | Feb 28, 2012

MUMBAI : Following DNA’s report on Sunday of how a visually-impaired Tata Institute of Social Sciences student Tony Kurian, 22, was repeatedly denied a flight ticket unless he agreed to be accompanied by an escort or a guide dog, IndiGo has suspended, with immediate effect, the outsourced call centre executives, who repeatedly refused to facilitate the tickets.

A statement from airline president Aditya Ghosh says IndiGo had spoken to Kurian and had assured him that “IndiGo, has no such policy that discourages visually challenged passengers from travelling with us or insisting that they are accompanied by escorts or guide dogs.”

“It is indeed a shocking incident and this kind of unacceptable behaviour calls for immediate action, including a training intervention.Hence, we have internally circulated an email reiterating the Directorate General of Civil Aviation guidelines (on disabled passengers) to our staff.”

Pointing out that IndiGo is the only airline that has a boarding ramp to allow wheelchairs and stretchers to be taken into the aircraft, the statement also mentions the ‘auto-step bus’ to assist them and senior citizens.

“We regret the inconvenience caused to Kurian, and hope he will see this experience as an aberration and not the rule at IndiGo,” the statement said.

Ghosh also mailed Kurian on Saturday apologising for the incident. But, the apology was in variance with the call centre staff who refused Kurian tickets three times. Irked such an “unacceptable behaviour”, the airline has taken strong action against the “errant” call centre executives by suspending them with immediate effect.

When DNA spoke to Kurian, he said he was glad that his stand was vindicated. “I want to thank the airline for such prompt and stern action.”

Source: DNA India

Here is the link to another media coverage of Indigo's denial to the visually impaired flyer in DNA Syndication

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

And now it is Jet Connect discriminating against persons with disabilities

Dear Friends,

Anjlee Agarwal, Samarthyam
The incidences do not stop. On 20th Feb 2012, Anjlee Agrawal faced similar discrimination- this times at the hands of Jet Connect while travelling from Delih to Raipur which went unreport. This confirms that most cases go unreported and while some odd ones surface, the airliners are conveniently happy issuing a public apology and promising that they will take action. However, "the status quo" is maintained- things continue to remain so!

Here are the details of the incidence in her own words:

"Followed by the incident of Jeeja with Spice Jet, the very next day I was harrassed by Jet Connect on 20th Feb. flight 9W 2211 from Delhi to Raipur. At Delhi airport. I was asked by the boarding pass issuer, if "I am fit to fly". When I asked him, "what do you mean", he stared at me and asked me to sign an indeminity bond. When I refused to do that, he said, "its our rule and you canot fly without signing this". I had to sign it, as I could not afford to miss the flight.

At Raipur airport:  Inspite of airlines crew assurance of getting an aisle chair on board, the flight supervisor, Niranjan Sen at Raipur pressurised me to be bodily lifted by four male loaders with the excuse that while deboarding at Raipur- they do not have aisle chairs in smaller cities. Hence I was "ordered" to be bodily lifted till the gate of the aircraft and then transferred to the big wheechair and then carried down the steps.

2. On my protest to the above, he threatened me that they will not de-board me instead will take me back to Delhi as the flight was going back to Delhi and in midst of all this commotion, flight attendants asked passengers to board the flight, before I de-boarded.

3. I kept fighting for making an aisle chair available and I refused to both- "bodily lifting and carried back to Delhi".

4. Meanwhile junior supervisor, started harrassing me by saying that I have not put a request for wheelchair while booking the tickets. When I said that I did made a wheelchair request at The Delhi airport and also while booking tickets, he said that "wheelchairs users cannot book tickets through web booking". This came as a bigger shock to me because I did book tickets online and with wheelchair request.

5. The fight continued for 35 minutes and when they found that I will not give up, a "Jet airways" aisle chair appeared. With ruthlessness and extreme rudeness, I was transferred into the aisle chair and "literally thrown down" the steps, as if they are all trying to get rid of me.

I think, it is quite obvious that what airlines do is book tickets, make money, and treat disabled passengers as "noonincoops" to be loaded by loaders, as if we are "sack of vegetables".

There is no rule, no training and no courtesy for disabled passengers. Private airlines make us sign an ideminity bond, wherein its clearly written that Airlines will not take any responsibility of the passenger.

Now, it is time for the entire disability sector to join hands and stand up aganinst the "airlines" and ask them to come up with uniform and dignified policy/guidelines for disabled passengers and SHOULD pay heavy price for violation.

Anjlee Agarwal
Executive Director & Access Consultant
National Centre for Accessible Environments"

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jeeja Ghosh, a prominent Indian disability right activist discriminated by Spicejet Pilot

Ms. Jeeja Ghosh,
Head -Advocacy and Disabilities Studies,
IICP, Kolkata, India
Dear Friends,

Jeeja Ghosh, a celebrated disability rights activist became a new victim of the discrimination by a pilot of Spice Jet. Shocking, unexpected and very unfortunate incidence for a frequent flier like her!

In the instant case Jeeja was offloaded from a Spice Jet flight from Kolkata to Goa because the Pilot refused to fly with Jeeja onboard since he believed that she was not fit enough to travel on her own and ordered her to be deplaned. 42 year old Jeeja, Head- Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Kolkata, was to fly to Goa on 19 February 2012 to attend a Conference on "Mainstreaming the Differently Abled"  and deliver a lecture on bringing the persons with disabilities into the mainstream! More at link: NDTV Articles; Sunday-Guardian; Times of India etc.

An awareness raising Video was prepared by IICP and is available at 

NDTV covered the news and is available at and another story  available at

Of late, this has become a usual practice for the airlines to mistreat passengers with disability and when one case in hundreds is picked up by media, just issue a public apology. They can't get away like this anymore. If it is against the airliner's policy to discriminate against the passengers with disabilities, stern exemplary action must be taken and duly publicized to regain the trust of the passengers. We find every third day the crews and pilots alerting the security guys for unruly passengers and getting them arrested. Let there be news of arrest / stern disciplinary action against the pilot/crew for unruly behavior/ refusal to fly and any other case of discrimination with the passengers, especially those with disabilities.

As per Section 4 of the DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirement on the Carriage by air of persons with disabilities and those with reduced mobility, which is reproduced below, refusal to fly in the instant case is utterly illegal, arbitrary and without any justification.

"4. Requirements
No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or persons with reduced mobility and their assistive aids/devices, escorts and guide dogs including their presence in the cabin, provided such persons or their representatives, at the time of booking and /or check-in for travel, inform the airlines of their requirement. The airlines shall incorporate appropriate provisions in the online form for booking tickets so that all the required facilities are made available to the passengers with disabilities at the time of check-in."
Similarly, the CAR also makes it mandatory to train the crews every three years on awareness raising about disability issues. However, this doesn't seem to be followed by the airliners in right spirit.

4.4     All airlines and airport management shall run program for their staff engaged in passenger handling e.g. cabin crew / commercial staff including floor walkers and counter staff etc. for sensitization and developing awareness for assisting passengers with disabilities. The training program shall be conducted at the time of initial training and a refresher shall be conducted every 3 years on the subject. Only such persons who have current course shall be assigned to handling disabled persons. The training program should interalia, include assisting disabled persons in filling up travel documents as may be required while providing assistance in flight.

Advice to Spice Jet and other similarly placed airliners

It’s the loss of credibility for the airliner at the end of the day and it is in their interest to be concerned on these alarming trends. Therefore, this is the right time that the airliner not only take stern action against the Pilot for bringing this disrepute to them and for defying settled law with impunity but also take preventive & corrective measures by introducing “Disability Sensitization Training” for the staff including the crews & pilots. This is mandates by the DGCA’s CAR as well a requirement under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities which India has signed and ratified. Please be aware that the training should be by competent professionals/organizations working with Persons with Disabilities and not just by any trainer who may be routinely training the staff on other general issues.

For Other Passengers with disabilities

It will be good for you to know your rights before you fly. A crisp version of what the DGCA’s CAR referred above provides to you has been prepared by our friend Shivani Gupta (AccessAbility) and is available here “Air Travel- Know your Rights”. Read the CAR in detail at “DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirements on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disabilities”.

For Jeeja, and fellow activists

There is a need of sustained effort to combat these rising cases of discrimination in most sectors of public life – be it education and employment or in mobility and transportation – road, rail, sea and air.

In light of suo moto action by the learned Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, Mr. Prasanna Pincha, there is no point now to file a writ petition against the Spice Jet as the High Court might reject the petition citing that a court of competent jurisdiction has already issued show cause to Spice Jet. However, nothing stops you from filing detailed Public Interest Litigation citing previous cases also wherein despite sufficient noise around, there was no action taken by the DGCA or the Airliner against the erring crew members or the Pilots. You will find reference to several of such cases in India on this blog at So now look sincerely at the following course of action:  
  • File a PIL in Supreme Court of India to address the systemic issues and seek monitoring of implementation of DGCA's CAR - suggest creating a monitoring committee comprising of DGCA reps, two reps from airliners, two/three reps from disability organizations, one rep from Office of CCPD. Alternatively, all the airliners can be tasked with a monthly reporting to DGCA / CCPD /uploading on respective websites, on the actions taken to implement the CAR and open a feedback window on the website for effective monitoring.
  • File a consumer case for exemplary compensation in the Consumer Disputes Forum citing the mental agony, trauma, harassment, loss of time, leading to non-attendance at the National Consultation on Inclusive Education at Goa etc. for an amount not less than 5 crore.
  • Training and sensitization of staff/crew/pilots has been the most neglected area despite this being mandated by the CAR. Mostly they try to complete this formality by internal training conducted by people who may not every know abc of disability and many of them never conduct such a training! I strongly suggest that this be conducted by disability organizations like IICP-Kolkata, Svayam-Delhi, AADI-Delhi, Vidyasagar-Chennai, ADAPT-Mumbai and several others spread across length and breadth of the nation depending on the regions where training is to be conducted. Standardization of the Course curriculum for training on disability sensitization should also be considered on priority. 
Do it quickly since there is sufficient noise that been created by activists and the supportive media well wishers at this moment. Sustained advocacy and not an adhoc hungama is the answer.

I am pained at what happened and this was very unfortunate and deplorable. You have all our support in this hour and we need to put things across loud and clear to ensure that the guilty pays through his/its nose and this serves as a reminder to the defying airliners about what is in store for them if a similar thing ever happens here on!


Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate Disability Rights