Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A woman Kolkata Professor and a wheelchair user raises a disability discrimination complaint against Air India

Dear colleagues, 

Ms. Priyanka De, an assistant professor who teaches philosophy at Presidency University and who also happens to be a wheelchair user due to cerebral palsy, has alleged harassment before and during travel on the national carrier 'Air India' recently. 


Air India, while regretting the inconvenience she had faced, refused to alter its position on the issues. Ms. De, flew from Kolkata to Delhi by Air India on February 17 and returned by the same airline on February 25. Prior to travel, she had a trying time availing of a concession that the airline offers to persons with locomotor disability. Discounts under various categories, including students and the ones in Armed services, can be availed while purchasing tickets online. But Ms. De, who is a wheelchair user and a person with benchmark disability was unable to avail of the discount online. It was only when she escalated the issue with the Prime Minister’s Office that the airline reached out to her and took the necessary documents over mail to approve the 50% discount on basic fare. 


The issue underlines the ordeal faced by passengers with disabilities when they are forced to personally visit the airlines office to book a concessional ticket while other categories of passengers to whom concessional tickets are allowed, can do so online. This is a systemic issue and even Indian Railways practiced this until the High Court of Delhi came out heavily on them to allow seamless system to avail online concessional ticket booking as available to other concessional categories. 


She narrated, “On my return, I wrote to the airline, asking it to ensure that others with similar disability get the discount while purchasing tickets online at a time when Covid is on the rise. But in its reply, the airline has expressed its inability to do so without physically verifying the extent of disability at the airline’s city or airport counter. Why can’t a passenger upload the disability certificate at the time of purchasing the ticket and show it at the time of travel.”


Airline has no reason to ask flyers with disabilities to  physically verify the extent of disability at their counter - in the city or at the airport. This is a salt on the wound and an outright discrimination on the grounds of disability as prohibited by section 3 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016. There is no written word in the law or in DGCA CAR or any other advisory to support this discriminatory practice.


Ms. Priyanka De also faced another challenge during the return journey. She was not allowed to carry her foldable wheelchair in the cabin, despite the airline website clearly stating that collapsible wheelchair and pair of crutches or braces for passenger use, if dependent on these, are allowed in the cabin.


“I have a narrow wheelchair that is collapsible to enable movement in flight and other confined spaces. It is helpful for use in the washroom. But on the afternoon of February 25, the flight crew refused to allow the wheelchair and wanted to stow it away in the belly cargo hold. When I pointed out that I could not use the washroom without it, the crew asked me to go to the toilet after the flight landed. It was inhuman,” she expressed in a Times of India article


The airline pointed out that the space constraint in the narrow body aircraft had prompted the crew to stow it in the cabin bulk head after taking permission from the flight commander. “Efforts were made to put the chair in the overhead cabin but since it could not fit there, it was shifted to the alternative storage space,” said an airline official.


It is pertinent to mention that the DGCA's Civil Aviation Requirement on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disabilities provides as below :-


"4.1.1    No airline shall refuse to carry persons with disability or 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, inform the airline of their requirement(s). The airlines shall incorporate appropriate provisions on their website within three months from the date of issue of this CAR, so that while making bookings, passengers with disability have the option to select the required facilities, which he/she will require during the journey."


Limitations of the aircraft, if any should be informed to the passengers so that they can make an informed choice. The National carrier is expected to be a role model, however, it seems there is lack of awareness and sensitisation among the staff on the subject. The DGCA CAR also provides for training of the staff in section 4.3. Specific sections are as below: 


"4.3.3  The operators shall ensure that all its employees are imparted disability-related basic training and refresher training at appropriate interval. 

Note: Disability related training provides practical overview and is relevant in particular to those providing assistance to persons with disability or reduced mobility. It increases understanding of the whole range of impairments so that personnel are aware of how to interact with persons with disability or reduced mobility and to tackle negative perceptions and attitudes towards such passengers.


4.3.4   In addition to basic training, operators should provide specific training for personnel who may be required to provide direct assistance to persons with disability and/or persons with reduced mobility


4.3.5  Operators shall ensure that adequate training is provided to all its service providers, ground handling agencies and sub-contractors responsible for providing assistance services


4.3.6  It shall be the responsibility of airport operator to ensure that security staff positioned at airport undergoes disability-related training


4.3.7  Airlines shall ensure that cabin crew safety and emergency procedures training is combined with disability awareness training for assisting persons with disability or reduced mobility in the cabin environment."


Way forward

The airline needs to reinforce training and sensitisation of its officials on a regular basis in compliance of DGCA CAR referred above so that such issues do not crop up. Airline should also provide advance information to customers about the size and limitation of the aircraft especially in cases of narrow body aircraft being deployed on domestic sectors to allow the users to take an informed decision about their travel.  The airline should immediately stop the practice of insisting physical verification of disability for booking concessional tickets. Persons with disabilities are to be provided same online facility of booking of tickets as available to other categories of travellers. For this purpose, airline could insist on adding the reference number of the identification document. In this era of technological advancement, it is easier to cross link identity documents so that the users are not harassed or discriminated on the basis of disability. Govt. of India has undertaken numerous efforts to ease the life of persons with disabilities and promote their inclusion in all walks of lives, let these incidents not mar the spirit of sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas!




Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Passenger Complaints about disability discrimination during flying are on rise in USA


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Airline passengers with disabilities say flight staff need more training and the airplanes need better accommodations to meet their needs, according to testimony during a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

Their concerns were part of a discussion about passenger experiences with airlines.

Testimony was presented from a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that said the number of passenger disability complaints reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation and to airlines directly has steadily increased since 2011.

Most were about staff being unable to properly assist the passengers, seating problems and issues with service animals.

Lee Page with Paralyzed Veterans of America testified about his experience.

"On my most recent flight, I had a problem with the aisle chair and the people who came to assist me,” Page said. "The personnel tried to lift me up over the fixed armrest and into my seat, but they were not strong enough and ended up dropping me on the armrest as I slid into my seat."

The number of overall passenger complaints to the DOT across all categories is also up about 10 percent from 2008 to 2017.

An aviation consultant for the nonprofit group Consumer Reports testified about the need for a passenger bill of rights.

"With guaranteed accommodations during flight delays and cancellations, transparencies of fares and fees and safe healthy aircraft seating,” William McGee said.

Testimony did point out that the overall quality of airline operational performance has improved over the last decade.

The report said the rate of denied boardings, mishandled baggage and flight delays have generally improved from 2008 to 2017.

Witnesses also pointed to new technology as reasons why the experience for passengers has improved.

“Enhanced service training for our crews and other guest-facing personnel as well as investments in technology like enhanced airport kiosks and our new self-bag drop machines that will help speed our guests through the check-in process,” Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer for Spirit Airlines Matt Klein said.



Friday, January 17, 2020

This Award-winning design by a student offers a new take on accessible aircraft cabins

Dear Colleagues,

This award-winning adaptable wheelchair design by an Irish designer Ms. Ciara Crawford offers a new take on accessible aircraft cabins, and aims to encourage airlines to make it easier for passengers with reduced mobility to fly with dignity and without the need to be manually lifted or transferred to the aircraft seat.

Image of electric wheelchairs that can be fitted to the existing seats, hence not requiring the wheelchair users to be lifted on to the seat.The so-called Row 1 airport wheelchair system would allow passengers to use the same electrified wheelchair to get from the airport check-in desk to the aircraft to their destination, eliminating the need for multiple seat transfers.

This innovative chair can be altered quickly on the aircraft by removing the larger wheels at the back. It is then fitted directly onto the passenger seat. Smaller cast wheels in the bottom frame allow the chair to be eased into position and used for mobility in-flight.

The design was Crawford’s final year project in college, and was inspired by both her work in the aviation sector and the experience of a family member.

“I was working as a concept developer for an aircraft parts manufacturer, and attended AIX [Aircraft Interiors Expo], and noticed the lack of focus on accessibility in the aircraft industry,” Crawford tells Runway Girl Network. “I have a cousin who is in a wheelchair and doesn’t travel for that reason, so I started looking into it. I knew I couldn’t change what was already there but needed to work with what is already on an aircraft – something that could be added to the aircraft very easily.”

Mindful of the practical requirements, and after reviewing a few models of existing aircraft seats, Crawford set about to design something that would fit onto the front row of most economy class cabins on long-haul aircraft. Crawford believes it would be managed like other aircraft, telling RGN: “It would be going to the airline [as their equipment] and it will be a service they would offer. It would have to be brought back by the airline. They would monitor how many they need and ensure that it’s going where it needs to go.”

To give limited mobility passengers greater control Crawford envisions the chair as being electrically powered, using batteries which are cleared for airline transport in the aircraft cabin. With this feature, limited-mobility passengers would be free to arrive to the gate unattended. A handheld control in one of the armrests would allow passengers to drive their chairs.


Once on board the aircraft, the passenger would need assistance with removing the back wheels. But the caster system on the back of the chair would make it easier for an assistant – either a travel companion or airline staff – to fit the wheelchair onto the seat.

The design earned Crawford recognition as the “2019 Emerging Product Designer of the Year” from the European Product Design Awards; it earned the 2019 Platinum Prize in Transportation, Aircraft/Aerospace.

Paul Priestman, co-founder of London design firm PriestmanGoode, which developed the Air Access integrated wheelchair aircraft seat concept for the 2012 Paralympic games and has been an active advocate for accessibility in air travel for years, tells RGN that he’s gratified to see more designers focus on solving the issues of accessibility.

“What I find encouraging is that a lot of people are coming to the same conclusion as us, that this is a possibility,” he says. While Priestman characterizes the delays in adopting workable solutions as frustrating, he feels generally optimistic. “Things are beginning to change because a lot of people are realizing that this is becoming a rights issue.”

As Priestman points out, other forms of mass transport have become accessible through regulation and airlines face the possibility that regulations will ultimately compel airlines to act. “It will only take one country,” he says, and others will join in drafting laws. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“I think one of the big issues is that the majority of people aren’t aware of the issues because people using the wheelchair are boarded before and deplane after,” he  says. “One of the ways of tackling this is to remind people that everyone at some point will need to have assistance.”

For Crawford, the recognition her design has received has opened up new opportunities to meet people in the airline industry who are equally committed to raising awareness and ensuring progress. “It has been massive,” she says. “I’ve heard from potential users, aircraft manufacturers…the interest has been great.”

Image Credits: To the Student Ms. Ciara Crawford who won the design competition.Article Source: Runwaygirlnetwork.com   Authored by: Marisa Garcia

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ms. Ann Frye to chair new Independent Panel of Experts to Help London's Gatwick Airport strategise services for disabled flyers


Dear Colleagues,

Its heartening to see this development at the London's Gatwick Airport where our good friend and an international specialist in Transportation Needs for People with Disabilities and Older Adults, Ms. Ann Frye, will Chair an independent panel of experts.  This new independent panel – made up of experts in the travel needs of disabled passengers and people with reduced mobility – will help to shape Gatwick’s accessibility strategy and improve services for disabled passengers, as announced by the airport on 19th Sep 2019.

The Independent Gatwick Accessibility Panel (IGAP) will take a broad view of accessibility provision and services at the airport, including setting new service standards and reviewing the airport’s performance against them and will complement the work and ongoing achievements of Gatwick’s Accessibility Forum and Passenger Advisory PRM Group.

The panel is expected to have its first meeting on 19 December 2019 and will build upon the ongoing work and achievements of two existing groups; the Passenger Advisory PRM Group – which represents passengers – and the Accessibility Community Forum, which is where airport stakeholders meet with local charities and support groups.

Ann Frye – an international specialist in the transport needs of disabled and older people will chair the group.  Ann currently co-chairs the US Transportation Research Board sub-committee on International Activities in Accessible Transportation and Mobility.  She is also working with the United Nations and the International Transport Forum on the mobility implications of a global ageing population.

Other members of the panel have been primarily drawn from the disability community – including those with hidden disabilities – and have been selected based on their expertise and experience both in disability and air travel. The biographies of other panel members can be found on Gatwick’s website here.

The panel will then meet at least twice every year and the minutes from each meeting will be published on Gatwick’s website.  The panel will also be consulted on other relevant issues on an ad hoc basis.

Aviation Minister Paul Maynard said: “Transport is vital for connecting people with work, friends and family, and should enable those from every part of society to access and enjoy exploring the rest of the world.

“Gatwick’s continued work on accessibility is helping to open up new opportunities and experiences, ensuring the aviation network is truly open to all.”

Chris Woodroofe, Chief Operating Officer, Gatwick Airport, said: “This new independent panel of experts will help us set new standards and identify innovative opportunities where we can improve the service we offer to passengers with reduced mobility or other disabilities.

“The panel will also complement and build on the ongoing achievements of our Accessibility Forum and Passenger Advisory Groups.  By consulting and engaging with such a broad range of experts, we want to make sure our accessibility services are the best they can be.”

Ann Frye, Chair of the Independent Gatwick Accessibility Panel, said: “I am delighted to have been invited to chair the new Independent Gatwick Accessibility Panel. I have worked for many years to promote accessibility for disabled and older people in aviation and other forms of transport and I look forward to working with Gatwick and their key stakeholders in achieving their goal to be the UK’s most accessible airport.”

Gatwick was the first airport to introduce a hidden disability lanyard scheme – something that all UK airports have introduced since.  Gatwick was also the first UK airport to open a sensory room, invested £2 million in a new ‘premium-style’ lounge for passengers with reduced mobility and is expanding its existing range of Changing Places facilities, which include hoists and height-adjustable changing beds and sinks.

The airport also places a particular emphasis on training and all passenger-facing staff are taught to recognize a range of hidden disabilities. To ensure consistent standards across the airport, Gatwick also offers this training free to airlines, ground handlers and organisations.

For example, 2,200 staff have been trained to recognize and help people with dementia across 14 different businesses. Staff working for Gatwick’s special assistance provider – Wilson James – are also the only ones in the UK trained to NVQ Level 2 & 3.

About Gatwick Airport
Gatwick is the UK’s second largest airport. It serves more than 230 destinations in 74 countries for 46 million passengers a year on short and long-haul point-to-point services. Gatwick is also a major economic driver and generates around 85,000 jobs nationally, with 24,000 of these located on the airport.

Since May 2019, a new long-term partnership was formed with VINCI Airports who purchased a 50.01% stake in the airport. This partnership sees Gatwick Airport integrate into the network of VINCI Airports, the leading private airport operator in the world, which manages the development and operation of 46 airports across the globe. Served by around 250 airlines, VINCI Airports’ network handled 240 million passengers in 2018 – including traffic at London Gatwick. VINCI Airports develops, finances, builds and operates airports, leveraging its investment capability, international network and know-how to optimise performance of existing airport infrastructure, facility extensions and new-build construction projects.

Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), which manages the remaining 49.99% interest in Gatwick, is an independent infrastructure investor that makes equity investments in high quality infrastructure assets in the energy, transport and water/waste sectors. GIP has US$56 billion of Assets under Management. Its 18 portfolio companies operate in over 50 countries with circa 54,000 employees and generate annual revenues of circa US$50 billion.

Source: Travel PR News.com

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Toyota to improve Universal Design Taxi Cab for faster wheelchair access

Dear Colleagues,

Toyota Motor Corp. is seriously looking at the business potential of Accessible Taxis. After it launched its spacious "JPN Taxi" wagon on Oct. 23, 2017 targeting wheelchair users, sports-persons with disabilities and tourists to Japan from abroad in the run up to the Paralympic Games, it is thinking further to reduce the usual boarding time for passengers using wheelchairs.

Toyota aims to encourage taxi companies to provide a total of 10,000 of the vehicles, which is about one-third of all taxis in Tokyo, in time for 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. It is pertinent to observe that Toyota had not released an exclusive taxi model since 1995. 
A driver paces an easier-to-install wheelchair ramp on an
improved  model of "JPN Taxi" taxicab.
Photo credits-(Mainichi/Yoshinori Ogura)

Technical Features:- For easy access to seniors and children, the car has a spacious interior with a low floor; a high ceiling; a power sliding door and can accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair. The wheelchair user is ushered inside via a ramp placed on the car’s side, with the help of the driver. Safety has been improved through the use of the latest collision avoidance support system in this vehicle. The easy to install wheelchair ramp provided is operated by the driver.

New Improvements:- Now the Toyota Motor Corp. has announced that it will improve its “JPN Taxi” universal design taxicab to enable wheelchair users to get into the vehicle more quickly — cutting the current maximum of around 20 minutes down to three minutes.

The improvements, unveiled on Feb. 4, 2019 involve redesigning the car’s foldable wheelchair ramp and simplifying its installation process, while the taxi itself will be a new model with better functionality, according to the major car maker.

Updating already sold cars of the model :- More than 10,000 units of the model are in use by taxi companies across Japan. For the units already sold, Toyota will from February 2019 begin providing a new ramp redesigned from tri-fold to double-fold, with improved fixings. A new model to be introduced in March will have an automatic sliding door that opens and shuts about 1.5 seconds faster than the current model.

A Toyota-organized training session will enable the driver to install the ramp in around three to four minutes, according to the company. A person in charge of the car’s development commented, “We want to make a taxi that makes everyone smile.”

Users's Feedback:- Hitoshi Nakamura, 67, a wheelchair user living in Nagoya’s Naka Ward was happy about the new model. Nakaumura submitted about 10,000 signatures from people requesting the model’s improvement to Toyota in November last year. “I’m really thankful and can’t wait to ride in the new one,” he said.

Source: The Mainichi.
(Japanese original by Yoshinori Ogura, Nagoya News Center)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Husband with disability forced to pre-board flight alone, separated from wife battling cancer

Disabled man forced to pre-board Reagan Southwest flight alone, separated from wife battling

30 Dec 2018, 1100PM

ARLINGTON, Va. - A couple says their holiday trip to Virginia was ruined by a traumatic incident on their flight home. A disabled husband was forced to pre-board alone, while his sick wife had to stay behind at the gate.

Terry and Kathryn Podraza were hesitant to make the trip from Omaha to Fredericksburg at all.
Terry is disabled, and Kathy is fighting cancer with aggressive chemotherapy starting on Monday. So, their family booked a direct flight on Southwest hoping to make their trip as easy as possible. Unfortunately, the Podrazas say it was anything but.

Kathy and Terry Podraza hadn't seen their 6-month-old grand baby since she was born. So, the idea of spending Christmas with their daughter Kate and her sister in Virginia was worth the long haul, despite serious challenges with their health.

"I'm handicapped and my wife has stage-four colon and liver cancer," said Terry Podraza.
After the holiday rush wrapped up, the Podrazas were headed home on a direct flight on Southwest.

Terry Podraza was permitted to board early, due to his disability. Kathy expected to join him, but they say the ticket agent wouldn't allow it.

"He told us that me having pre-boarding and being handicapped, that it was against the law for her to board at the same time as me," said Terry Podraza.

Instead, Terry used his cane to board alone, while Kathy waited at the gate. And as the final passengers stepped on the plane, Kathy was still waiting.

Not only had the agent not allowed her to assist Terry, Kathy says he accidentally scanned and kept her ticket. So when she finally was able to board, she had no way to get on the plane.
"All he had to do is ask me my name and he would have seen that he had already scanned my boarding pass," said Kathy Podraza.

While battling a second bout of cancer and gearing up for intense chemotherapy, Kathy says the agent's actions brought her to tears.

But when she finally was allowed on, Kathy says she was thankful at least for a very kind flight attendant who offered a little something to calm her nerves -- a mimosa.

The "Frequently Asked Questions" page on Southwest Airlines website addressed pre-boarding protocol and states:
“We will allow one travel companion to act as an “attendant” and pre-board with a customer with a disability.”

When reached for a comment via phone or email,  Southwest responded:

"Because it’s important to southwest that this concern is given our full attention, this situation has been given to a specialist for further review. We assure you that any missed opportunities will be thoroughly addressed."

Terry Podraza reached out as well and received an automatic message saying it would take up to 30 days before he receives an answer. 

Source: fox5DC 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Students design Single aisle chair for your air travel from departure gate to arrival gate



Photo source: dezeen.com
I am encouraged by this student-designed Air Chair that allows disabled passengers to use one chair for their whole journey.  As per this report from dezeen.com, two students from the United Arab Emirates have proposed a new type of wheelchair for air travel that saves disabled passengers from having to shift from one seat to another. 

Though, the aisle chair doesn't have a head rest, arm rest and other essential support systems that may be required by persons with disabilities with high support needs, however, it can be big relief for elders and other reduced mobility passengers who can manage without arm rest etc. 

Amer Siddiqui and Ali Asgar Salim were named runners up in the 2018 James Dyson Award for the Air Chair, which slides over the top of standard aeroplane seats and stays in place for the duration of the flight.

The award recognises the best in student design from around the world and is judged by the British inventor.

Use of the Air Chair would allow disabled passengers to remain in a single seat for their entire journey, from departure gate to arrivals hall. Usually, passengers requiring a wheelchair would switch to a fixed seat once on board the plane.
Photo source: dezeen.com

"The current plight of wheelchair air travellers is extremely deplorable," said the two American University of Sharjah students. "The present solutions are exceedingly restricting and humiliating. They only provide limited mobility and accessibility."
To create a chair that could slip over an existing seat like a glove, Siddiqui and Salim gave their design a hollowed-out "C" shape, with small, spherical rear wheels that fit underneath a standard aeroplane seat.

A locking mechanism secures the Air Chair in place, allowing the passenger to access the provided seatbelt and reach the life vest if required.

The design is also narrow enough to pass through aisles — another point of difference from standard wheelchairs. It is foldable and electric.

The James Dyson Award described the Air Chair as a "bold attempt" to improve the flying experience for disabled passengers.

While the design is still in the concept stage, Siddiqui and Salim now have £7,000 in prize money from the awards to put towards prototyping. They'll further test and analyse their design, taking into account aviation regulations from around the world.

"Being selected international runner-up by a technology pioneer like James Dyson is a true vindication of our idea," said the students. "This achievement has spurred us on to continue developing Air Chair."

"Through the exposure of our concept, we hope to secure even more investment to kickstart the prototyping phase; we'll feel restless until we see Air Chair in airports across the globe."

The international winner in this year's James Dyson Award was the O-Wind Turbine, designed by UK students Nicolas Orellana and Yaseen Noorani for use in dense city environments.

The James Dyson Awards is open to current and recent design and engineering students from around the world, with a final winner emerging following heats in 27 countries. Entrants are asked to design something that solves a problem, big or small.

Participating countries in this, the 14th year of the awards, included the USA, China, India, Mexico, Russia and the Philippines.

The awards are one of several educational initiatives run by Dyson, who is best known for his eponymous vacuum cleaners as well as blade-less fans and hairdryers. The inventor and Brexiteer also opened his own university, the Dyson Institute, in 2017, starting with an intake of 33 undergraduate engineers.

Other studios who have looked into the issue of air travel for disabled passengers include Priestmangoode. The studio used the London 2012 Paralympics as the jumping off point to design the Air Access chair, a seat that passengers with reduced mobility can sit in from the departure lounge through to their destination.

Source: Dezeen dot com