Monday, 3 June 2013

There is yet another piece about

"discrimination" in the paper this morning. This time there are claims that an airline discriminated against a young woman with cerebral palsy and a hearing loss. Apparently she uses a wheelchair and was intending to fly alone from a capital city to a regional area to visit family.
I have no problem with that. There is no reason why she should not fly alone. The flight is direct. It is short. There was no need to change planes.
The airline did have a problem though. They said that the passenger could not understand their instructions. They also said that not being able to communicate with her was a safety issue.
Now of course airlines do fly with people they are not able to communicate with. They do it all the time. People get on a plane and they do not speak the same language as the pilot or the cabin crew. It is not usually considered a problem so long as the passenger can, in an emergency situation, look after their own personal needs and safety. 
But not being able to communicate with a person who is unable to look after their own personal needs and safety does involve a risk both to that person - and also to those around them.  The airline would be acutely aware of this. The airline is responsible for the safety of all passengers, not just the one who needs a great deal of assistance.  
I do not know the finer details of this case. I do not know how or how well the passenger with the disability could communicate. Could she understand verbal instructions given to all passengers at the same time? Could she respond to a direct question or instruction? Can she read?
I suspect that what was needed here was advance planning and information in accordance with her capacity to communicate. The passenger should perhaps have been taught about the emergency instructions beforehand. Perhaps they should then have been given to her on boarding in a form she could understand. That might have been in very simple words or in pictures. She should have had a similar means of communication with her so that the cabin crew could understand her without the need for signs or any form of electronic communication that might break down. 
Both sides would need training. It might even be necessary for them to meet beforehand.
Not  being able to communicate when things go wrong is - and I do not exaggerate here - terrifying. It is a situation I would not wish on anyone and yet it happens over and over again every day all over the world. 
There was no need for it to happen in this case. It was a matter of forward planning. It is a responsibility that the person with the disability and/or their family or carers have to take on. At the same time special communication needs are something the wider community needs to know a great deal more about. 
Before the airline staff are condemned for their actions perhaps it would be wise to consider how else the situation might have been handled. What might have happened if the two sides had communicated beforehand? 


JO said...

Airlines must travel with people who have a hearing loss all the time. The only difference here is that the service user happened to be in a wheelchair. Nothing is insurmountable - does sound as is someone was having a jobsworth day.

(I know a young lawyer who specialises in disability law. He was trying to get on a train shortly before it was due to leave and the staff refused to push him on saying there was no time to get the ramp for his wheelchair. He said he'd crawl on (in view of the time), so he climbed out, crawled on - and they lifted the chair without putting the brake on, tipped all his papers on the railway line under the train. He knew enough to insist they move the train and collect his papers. How much quicker if they'd just fetched the ramp!)

Anonymous said...

Situation for a hearing impaired but otherwise able-bodied person is quite different. They can move independently and follow the actions of other passengers as well as other visual cues.
It was the combination of disabilities and the lack of ability to communicate which caused the problem.
Cat is right in suggesting there needed to be greater prior preparation of both passenger and crew.
The disabled most certainly have rights - but not at the expense of the safety of others.
Cat, your name came up more than once today with respect to this story. I trust you have written a letter - or even two! Chris.

Holly said...

Don't know what the Australian law is - but International regulations are extremely clear. Safety of ALL the passengers and the aircraft surmount the individual. The crew is not one-to-one and can not be expected to carry her out of the plane. In an emergency, she would be left behind and that is not in anyone's best interest.

Flying is a privilege, not a right. The rules and guidelines are clear. If she has done the paperwork ahead of time, she would have been informed that she needed an attendant to fly.

The airline was being completely and totally reasonable and responsible. I applaud them for taking a correct stance even tho it is unpopular.

(BTW - it is these same rules that prevents that 600# person from buying the single, economy seat next to you......)