September 07, 2007

Indian Aviation Norms for Disabled Passengers Revised

Ananth Krishnan
of the Hindu reports on positive developments for air travelers in and to India as theoretical distinctions made by disability scholars find their way into public and governmental discourse.

In the ongoing controversy over civil air regulations in India the definition of disability has been somewhat clarified. Distinguishing between permanent disability and illness, the regulations begin to extricate themselves from the Medical Model of Disability. In so doing they provide clarity for air transport providers while capturing distinctions in passenger functionality relevant to air travel.

Such campaigns for human rights as C. Mahesh, Rajiv Raman, the Community-Based Rehabilitation Forum and Vidyasagar are an ongoing necessity. Often they attract censure when they appear to raise the level of conflict beyond "polite" levels of acquiescence. Unjust regulations, inadequate infrastructure, preemptory expulsion from aircraft, or forced sedation will simply never be tolerated by the community of persons with disabilities.

However, the worldwide disability community now hopes that, with an inkling of the positive social benefit available in adopting the Social Model of Disability as a basis for policy, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation will affirmatively pursue policy that enables the airline industry to profit from the untapped financial resources of travelers with disabilities to the mutual benefit of that community and the tourism industry.

CHENNAI: Following objections from disabled rights groups, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has revised the civil aviation requirements for disabled passengers that were put into effect on August 15.

Disabled rights organisations had voiced their protest against the implementation of the guidelines stating that they were not clear enough in their definition of disability. The requirements also made it necessary for disabled passengers to be accompanied by escorts. The disabled rights groups claimed this was discriminatory.

The revised requirements define a disabled person or a person with reduced disability as "any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary), intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or age, and whose situation needs appropriate attention."

The requirements also state that airlines "shall not insist for the presence of an escort," acknowledging that "many persons with disabilities do not require constant assistance for their activities." If a passenger declares "independence in feeding, communication with reasonable accommodation, toileting and personal needs," he or she will not have to travel with an escort.

"Welcome relief"

"The revised guideline is a welcome relief," C. Mahesh, advocacy coordinator of the Community-Based Rehabilitation Forum told The Hindu on Thursday. "The earlier version was draconian and would have greatly hampered independent air travel for persons with disabilities."

Mr. Mahesh said that the earlier requirements had not made a distinction between disabled passengers and those with a medical condition.

"Thankfully, this has been done away with," he said. "This distinction is very important because not all disabled persons have a medical condition. Disability is not an illness but a condition that is more or less permanent in nature."
Mr. Mahesh added that the DGCA had written to the disabled rights groups for feedback on the revisions. The revised requirements will come into effect on October 1.

The issue of aviation requirements for disabled passengers has come under the spotlight following the prevention of Rajiv Rajan, a cerebral palsy patient, from boarding an Air Sahara flight in Chennai on June 18 for failing to produce a medical certificate. Mr. Rajan was also forced to take a sedative pill before boarding a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Chennai two years ago.

According to the new requirements, airlines will no longer have the authority to take such steps.
Disabled passengers who require assistance only in embarking or disembarking, or needing "reasonable accommodation" in flights, cannot be asked by airlines to produce medical certificates.

Right to travel

For the disabled rights groups, the revisions are a welcome measure. Mr. Rajan, also an activist with the disabled rights non-governmental organisation Vidyasagar, told The Hindu that the earlier requirements, in particular the
demand for escorts, infringed on a disabled person's right to travel.

"If the August 15 draft were to come into effect, it would affect my right to movement," he said.
"I travel at least three times a month, so it is very difficult for me to find an escort on my own. It is a violation of my right to be independent."


Further Readings on Disability Studies and Inclusive Tourism:

Defining the Market of Travelers with Disabilities

Inclusive Tourism: Some Definitions

"Specialness" & Scarcity: The Paternalism Syndrome

ahistoricality: Progressive Engagement With Disability

Getting the Design Right: Inclusive Destination Development

Posted by rollingrains at September 7, 2007 11:45 PM