Wednesday, May 14, 2008

DGCA's CAR Guideline on Carriage by air of Passengers with disability and reduced mobility - finally enforced but with qualifications

Dear Friends 

Finally the 8th draft dated 24th April 2008 has seen the light of the day after the Ministry of Civil Aviation cleared it to become the new CAR Guideline on Carriage of People with Disabilities and People with Reduced Mobility effective 01st May 2008. This can also be accessed by clicking here: CAR Guideline. We must thank Mr. Kanu Gohain, the Director General of Civil Aviation who had followed very constructive and participatory approach while devising these CAR guidelines where the disability groups including Svayam, deliberated on the content of the CAR word by word. It is but for his open and democratic way of finalizing this CAR that we see 15 good points and only 7 lacunae in the CAR. 

 Here is a brief assessment of the New CAR viz. Good Points and Issues that still needs to be addressed (Loop Holes). There might be few other areas that I might have left and you may be able to point them out. I would request you to kindly provide your inputs so that we jointly can fight for rectifying the shortcomings together. 

Good Points included in the DGCA’s New CAR effective 01 May 2008 

1. To remove confusion between People with disabilities/People with Reduced Mobility and Sick/medically ill passengers, the new CAR has defined the Incapacitated Passengers as those with medical condition and Persons with Reduced Mobility (PRM) and Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) as those whose mobility is impaired/reduced when using transport (Ref Section 3). 

2. It mandates that no airlines will refuse to carry PwD/PRM and their assistive aids/devices, escorts & Guide Dogs. 

3. Emergency Evacuation procedures and Training on handling PwD/PRM shall be included in Airline’s Training & Safety manuals. 

4. Only trained persons shall be assigned to assist and handling the passengers with disabilities. 

5. All Airlines will assist those who wish to travel alone without an escort (Ref. para 4.8) 

6. Barrier Free Access, accessible toilets and Assistance Booths close to the entrance (within visible proximity at arrival/departure terminals) with International symbol of accessibility at the Airport are mandated in 4.10 

7. No limit on number of PwD on a flight. Equal choice of seat allocation. 

8. No medical Clearances of special forms shall be insisted from PwD/PRM

9. All assistive aids shall be provided without any extra costs to the passengers. 

10. Pwds/PRMs including Blind passengers shall not be restricted to any particular cabin or seating areas. Guide Dogs are allowed in the Cabin with prior information. 

11. Individual briefing to PRM/PwDs /their escorts before take off by senior cabin crew of airline. Blind passengers to be provided Braille brochures and large print brochures besides verbal briefing. 

12. Once ticket is confirmed, no further enquiries shall be made (Para 9.5). 

13. In case of loss or damage to the mobility equipment during storage and handling, the airlines shall be liable for providing suitable compensation. 

14. Assistive Aids and Devices can be carried as hand baggage in the aircraft (Ref: note to para 7.5) 

15. In-transit offloading- in case of overnight halt, the accommodation provided should be accessible and barrier free. 

Issues that need to be addressed: 

1. Para 4.6 “Passengers who declare independence in feeding, Communication with reasonable accommodation, toileting and personal needs are allowed to travel without escort.” This section is discriminatory against people who require some support in areas of feeding and personal needs etc and it gives a right to airlines to disallow the passengers to fly, if they don’t declare independence. We feel that this para looses its relevance in light of para 4.8 which is an enabling and positive para. Thus in view of this para 4.6 should be deleted in toto.

2. Para 4.9 -People not holding any Disability Certificate also to be given all facilities but at a cost. – This is not acceptable since Government of India has so far has failed to provide Disability Certificates to all the disabled population and many do not go to obtain one due to ridiculous and time consuming procedures. Hence, this condition will adversely affect them for no fault of theirs. Also the Airliners have been providing free services to the elderly people who seek much more assistance and support that what a blind passenger might seek. Thus this would amount to discrimination on the basis of disability and we strongly recommend that no additional fee should be charged from any one. 

3. Provisions regarding charges for Human assistance are not acceptable as devised by 6.1 (a). By doing so the person with disability would be put on a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis his non-disabled counterparts and would amount to “Discrimination on the basis of Disability” and also against principle of “reasonable accommodation” thus contravenes Article 9 of UNCRPD.

4. There is an inherent contradiction in para 6 of the CAR Guideline: While Opening words are “All assistive aids shall be provided without any extra cost to the passengers.” The first sub para 6(a) provides a loop hole by declaring that “Any charges for human assistance, if required, may be levied by the Airlines.” Similarly sub para 6.4 (b) seeks to charge for narrow wheelchair type aisle chairs which are without armrests and can be moved about in the passenger cabin and can be used for internal mobility by persons with reduced mobility. It says “Any nominal charge in this regard, if levied, shall be paid by the passenger.” The narrow width of the passage in the aeroplane is a design fault and not the fault of wheelchair user. If the present passage could accommodate the personal wheelchairs then aisle chairs would not be needed in its first place. Thus the users should not be penalized /charged for the design fault. It is recommended that for all future procurements of aircraft, the passage, toilets etc having access features should be invariably provided. Till then the aisle chairs should be provided without any costs. 

5. The above charges under 6,4(b) also contradict para 9.1 (Assistance on the plane) which provides that All airlines should assist a passenger with disability to get to the toilet. Any PRM would eventually need an aisle chair for internal mobility including reaching toilet. It also contradict para 4.8 which says “All airlines shall provide necessary assistance to PwDs/PRM who wish to travel alone without an escort. 

6. Charges for Assistance in Disembarkation at point of transfer and /or destination: In para 7.7 the airline seeks to charge a nominal amount for request for assistance in baggage delivery and getting out of the airport. This is absolutely unnecessary and not acceptable. Any charge for assistance in getting the baggage delivered to a blind person, for example, would put him to disadvantage just because he can not see and needs help to locate his/her baggage! Doesn’t this amount to discrimination?

7. Complaint Procedure – The role of an external agency has not been provided. No time limit for complaint redressal has been given. Earlier, the complaints used to go to the DGCA, CCPD. Now in case of any infringement of the CAR, the user can access the managing body of airlines/airports only who have never in past done any better thing than apologizing- sometimes in person and sometimes in public! Thus we feel that there could be a Grievance Handling Body consisting of members from all scheduled and non-scheduled airliners at a single window as it would be difficult to chase different airlines individually and one would shift the blame on the other in case failure of interline coordination is being reported. Also there should be a time limit for redressal of complaint failing which appeal to DGCA and CCPD should lie.

Regards

Subhash Chandra Vashishth

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