Out of Africa - some good news!

Piet Human is a dynamic experienced South African entrepreneur. His new innovative audio-visual tour guide has been years in the making and promises to be a new type of travel resource for those with disabilities.

The meeting report below illustrates how Piet's can-do attitude cuts through knots of miscommunication and discriminatory air travel policy to end up with progress toward sustainable justice and customer loyalty among travelers with disabilities. 

Thanks to Piet - and the long tradition of high quality tour operations for visitors with disabilities in South Africa - this group he called together moved South Africa farther up the list of most desirable countries for travelers with disabilities to visit. Yabo! Let's go!



South Africa is hosting several International Conferences for persons with disabilities later this year. Some agencies and Tour Operators were surprised by the rules for Deaf passengers on our domestic flights. When Jennea Bezuidenhout of Access2Africa Safaris reported these problems to her associate Piet Human of Incar Travel Guide in Johannesburg, he immediately saw an opportunity to start a corrective action plan.

His 10 years working for the National Institute for the Deaf and being self-employed developing Accessible Tourism Systems, gave him enough experience to soon spot the problem areas as he started to study reams of documents by the Civil Aviation Authority and local Airline policies.

Realizing that this could become a long and expensive exercise he nevertheless managed to set up a meeting with the senior manager at the CAA the very next day.

When he got there the meeting suddenly grew to a dozen people! All involved in policy making issues for the disabled in aviation. "That was the quickest presentation I've put together in my mind ever!" says Piet!

He restricted the meeting to issues of a Deaf nature, as that was the most urgent at the time. The airlines rules causing the problems stated things like: A maximum of 8 Deaf passengers are allowed on a 160 seater aircraft. Another airline insisted on 1 able person to accompany every 5 disabled passengers.

These were the main points and outcomes of the meeting:

The CAA acknowledged shortcomings in the rules and regulations, and has embarked on a renewal project concerning their regulations for domestic airlines, but unfortunately the process has grinded to a halt some time ago.

Amongst the many CAA regulations of 1997, no 121.07.15 stated: "The operator of a large commercial air transport aeroplane shall establish procedures, including identification, seating positions and handling in the event of an emergency, for the carriage of passengers with a disability."

Piet remarked: "This was the one statement in the document that for me stood out as part of the problem. At a glance, all the other regulations made perfect sense for wheelchair users, but certainly not for Deaf passengers."  

He went on by suggesting that a shortcoming in the wording of that regulation regarding "Carriage of passengers with disability" should be seen as part of the problem. Airline operators were expected to form their own rules within the CAA regulations, and it is exactly there where defective rules are being created by inexperienced people perhaps even without any consultations with the disabled or their expert advisors. Without a doubt the essential requirement of using expert advice should form part of the regulation.

It came as a great relief when the CAA officials immediately accepted his proposal without any hesitance. Piet pointed out that it is no abled bodied person's fault for not knowing the finer details of a Deaf traveler needs to be safe on an aircraft. But it is a gross oversight for them not to involve people in the know when it comes to policy making.

DeafSA, the regulating body for people with hearing loss in SA has got a popular slogan: "Nothing for the Deaf without the Deaf!" Can you now see the point!?

Me. Yolinda Mooloo, responsible for the new drive behind change, reiterated her undertaking to rekindle the fire to get the CAA's updating process back on track, knowing full well that it is a long and tedious undertaking.

So what about the immediate problems for Deaf group bookings, as no new rules are likely to be ready in time for the conferences this year?  

The CAA agreed that the limitation on the number of Deaf passengers per flight as well as the 5:1 able persons rule is NOT a requirement as far as safety and other regulations are concerned for the CAA. The CAA never suggested that to airlines in the first place!

Airlines should begin to realize that a Deaf passenger can do everything, except hear! There are no logical reasons why any Airline would require these limitations as a safety measure. That can be confirmed by many experts in Deaf matters around the globe.

In view of the immediate need for the conferences this year, Piet was asked to write to all the operators and refer them to Mr. Thabo Fisha at the CAA  fishat@caa.co.za, 011 545-1210 who chaired the meeting. Agents need to request an agent exemption from these limitations, which will then enable all Deaf groups to travel together and as they wish with no restrictions other than that they will not be seated around the emergency exits on any aircraft.  

This exemption will be provided by the CAA, effective for all domestic flights for this year. Agents should allow 3 days for processing. 

Piet pleaded with the CAA not to leave the matter there, but instead continue the process of moving forward until fair and practical new rules are in place that will not undermine people's dignity, all in line with our great new exemplary constitution.

The best news of the day was that the meeting fully supported that need as well. A permanent solution will be sought by the CAA, but this time with the right advisors in place! Piet made a point of recommending the meeting to tap into international resources such as Scott Rains (USA) and Simon Darcy (Australia) who both are powerful role players in Universal Access issues.

On that happy note, the meeting adjourned!

And the best of all? This took only 2 days to materialize!



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