Ministry of Civil Aviation,
Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan,
New Delhi, India
JS (A), Ministry of Civil Aviation,
February 27, 2012
Re: The Proposed Civil Aviation Policy 2012 – Memorandum On The Requirements of Persons With Disabilities
At the outset we thank you for extending the deadline for submission of these inputs to February 27, 2012. We, the disabled people’s organizations and organizations representing and/or working with persons with disabilities named at the end of this Memorandum, would like to bring to your attention our comments and input with respect to the formulation of a new Civil Aviation Policy for the country, from the perspective of persons with disabilities who account for nearly ten percent of the Indian population.
We believe that the time is right for formulating a new Civil Aviation Policy which includes specific emphasis on passengers with disabilities. Recent incidents such as the one relating to Jeeja Ghosh where she was forced to deplane from a Spice Jet aircraft and Anjlee Agarwal who was asked by the Jet Connect flight supervisor to be bodily lifted by four male loaders, highlight that even though air travel has become ubiquitous, persons with disabilities continue to face most of the barriers that we faced 10 years ago. While some positive steps such as the introduction of Civil Aviation Requirements on Carriage by Air of Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility# (“CAR PWD”) were taken, the experience on the ground remains at an unacceptably low level. We believe that a strong disabilities section in the Civil Aviation Policy will be the starting point to remedying the issues faced by persons with disabilities. After India’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007, India is now obliged to take the necessary steps to ensure that air travel is accessible by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others. We give below our comments and input to assist in formulation of an inclusive disability policy on air travel by persons with disabilities to be included in the Civil Aviation Policy (“Disability Policy”).
- Beneficiaries of the Disability Policy
The Disability Policy must cover all persons with disabilities. Point 3.1 of the CAR PWD defines a “disabled person” as any person whose mobility when using transport is reduced due to physical disability, intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability, or age. It must be recognized that not all persons with disabilities who require assistance in relation to air travel are persons with mobility impairment. Some such examples are people who are hearing impaired, people who have low vision, people with autism, etc., who have no mobility impairment but still require assistance. The Disability Policy must therefore cover all persons with disabilities and not only those who have mobility impairments. The Disability Policy must also recognize that persons with different types of disabilities often require different types of assistance.
- Underlying Principles of the Disability Policy
The Disability Policy must be based on the following principles:
- Equality and non-discrimination, not only between persons without disabilities and persons with disabilities, but also between persons with different disabilities;
- Accessibility, not only at the airport and allied facilities, but also with respect to services including but not limited to the ticket reservation system, whether online, at kiosks or offline; and
- Individual autonomy and independence of persons with disabilities, including the freedom to make their own choices.
- Steps required to be taken to accommodate passengers with disabilities
The Disability Policy must recognize that the steps required to be taken to accommodate passengers with disabilities must be on par with internationally recognized best practices in this area. The CAR PWD, which is loosely modeled on the European Union’s 2006 regulations concerning the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air, is intended to serve this purpose. However, our analysis of the CAR PWD finds that the CAR PWD is wholly inadequate in many respects and must be entirely revised. The Disability Policy must recognize this. We must point our here that the European Union regulations mentioned above were drafted in 2006 before the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was drawn up and it is our firm belief that those regulations are outdated. While the CAR PWD may have some utility as a “vision document” we observe that it is not detailed enough, which therefore leads to ambiguity in interpretation particularly by ground staff, pilots and others. Some of the specific issues highlighted by persons with disabilities are provided in Annexure 1. There are many other issues that the CAR PWD does not envisage while there are several other issues covered in the CAR PWD which are substantially ambiguous thereby leaving room for misinterpretation to the detriment of disabled passengers. We recommend that the CAR PWD is revised, in consultation with all stakeholders including persons with disabilities. Some subsequent regulations such as the US Department of Transportation’s Title 14 CFR Part 382 “Nondiscrimination On the Basis of Disability in Air Travel”# must be studied and suitable clauses from there must be modified for the Indian scenario. We would like to highlight here that the CAR extends to state owned airlines and private airlines and the revised CAR should also have the same coverage.
- Emphasis on Training and Sensitization
The Disability Policy must stress on the importance of proper training and sensitization of all relevant personnel, including pilots, ground staff and airport employees including check-in and security staff with respect to the nature of various disabilities and the accessibility issues face by persons with different types of disabilities. This is critical to ensure barrier free, safe and dignified air travel for persons with disabilities. While the CAR PWD does provide for some form of sensitization programs to be run by airlines, the CAR is silent about the exact nature of sensitization programs to be run by airlines thereby leaving the scope of the training to the discretion of individual airlines. As is evident from Jeeja’s experience the training given, if any, is sorely inadequate. It is critical that standardized training programs must be prescribed by the DGCA for all airlines. These training programs must be prepared by the DGCA in consultation with a body recognized by the Government such as the Rehabilitation Council of India.
- Putting in place an effective grievance redressal and enforcement mechanism
Another important aspect to be prescribed by the Disability Policy is an effective grievance redressal and enforcement mechanism under which a swift and speedy remedy is available to persons with disabilities in the event their rights are violated. Moreover, sufficient penalties must be prescribed on airlines and airports for each instance of violation and passengers must be adequately compensated. While vide Notification G.S.R.686(E) dated 17th September 2009, Ministry of Civil Aviation, non-compliance with directions issued under Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 is a Category III offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or fine not exceeding Rs.2 lakhs or with both, this provision is not being enforced effectively as a result of which airlines are not deterred from preventing violations of the CAR. The complaints mechanism must be easily accessible for persons with disabilities and all airports must have an assistance booth which provides live assistance, sign language interpreters etc. to help passengers file complaints. This will ensure that airlines and airports comply with applicable guidelines. The CAR is wholly inadequate in this respect also.
- Importance of timelines for implementation
It is important that the Disability Policy prescribes concrete timelines for achievement of the objectives of the Policy. We proposed that by the end of 2012:
- The CAR is revised in consultation with persons with disabilities;
- all necessary steps are taken to ensure that air travel is completely barrier free;
- a simple, effective and quick complaints mechanism should be in place; and
- the system of imposing penalties on erring parties and payment of compensation to passengers should be in place.
We believe that the lack of strong policy guidelines in the Civil Aviation Policy is the single biggest cause for the shoddy treatment of disabled passengers and the lack of effective accommodation in relation to air travel. Any guidelines such as the CAR must flow from the disability policy and if the disability policy is comprehensive, it is only natural that the downstream guidelines will be effective. We urge you consider the concerns of persons with disabilities when formulating the new Civil Aviation Policy. We place on record our willingness to assist in formulation of a disability policy as part of the new Civil Aviation Policy.
(1) Rahul Cherian, Inclusive Planet Center for Disability Law and Policy
Mobile: +91 98403 57991
(2) Dipendra Manocha, Saksham Trust
Mobile: + 91 98180 94781
(3) Srinivasu Chakravarthula, National Association for the Blind, Karnataka
Mobile: +91 9900810881
(4) Anjlee Agarwal, Samarthyam, National Centre for Accessible Environments
Mobile: +91 9810558321
(5) Sai Padma, Global Ability in Disability
Mobile +91 9052627070
List of Organizations
- Rehabilitation Council of India
Gen. Ian Cardozo, Chairman
- Action for Autism
- Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy
Jeeja Ghosh, Sudha Kaul
- Human Rights Law Network
Rajive Raturi, Director,
- National Association for the Blind (India)
K. Ram Krishna
- National Association of the Deaf
A.S. Narayanan, Secretary
- Enable India
- Retina India
- Xavier's Resource Center for the Visually Challenged
Dr. Sam Taraporevala
- Centre for Internet and Society
- National Institute for Speech and Hearing
Samuel N Mathew, Executive Director,
- Bapu Trust for Research on Mind & Discourse
- Ability Foundation
- Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled
- Swadhikaar Center for Disabilities Information, Research and Resource Development
- The Red Door under Mind Arcs
- Global Ability in Disability
- Samarthyam, National Centre for Accessible Environments
- National Association for the Blind, Karnataka
- Saksham Trust
- Inclusive Planet Center for Disability Law and Policy
List of Individuals
- Nilesh Singit, Disability Rights Activist
- Mohammed Asif Iqbal, Principal Consultant Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers
- Dr. L. Govinda Rao
Former Director, NIMH & NIEPMD, GOI,
Member, Committee for Law on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, GOI.
Specific Issues and Suggestions to Improve the CAR PWD
Below are suggestions for some specific provisions that should be made a part of the CAR PWD. This is not a comprehensive list but is based solely on the personal experience of some of the contributors to this note and is intended as an illustrative list of issues for inclusion in the CAR PWD.
- The CAR PWD must focus on, and provide for assistance to all persons with disabilities and not only persons with mobility issues. In addition to persons with mobility issues, the CAR PWD must provide for assistance to hearing impaired passengers; passengers with low vision, blind passengers, passengers with developmental disabilities such as autism, intellectual disabilities/mental retardation etc. as well. The CAR PWD should therefore address not just ‘mobility’ issues but also recognise and provide for specific accommodation appropriate for different kinds of disability.
- The CAR PWD and the Aircraft Rules, 1937 should be so amended to as to remove discrimination particularly against those suffering from mental disorders and epilepsy.
- The CAR PWD must provide for the provision of curb side assistance for people who cannot walk all the way to the entrance of the terminal.
- The CAR PWD must provide for non-negotiable accessibility standards in the airport infrastructure, facilities and services.
- The CAR PWD must mandate that the websites of all airlines and all ticketing websites must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and the web accessibility guidelines of the NIC in the case of state controlled airlines, as a result of which persons with disabilities using screen readers and other assistive technologies are able to purchase tickets online.
- The CAR PWD must mandate the steps to be taken by airlines to make in-flight entertainment accessible to persons with visual impairment and persons with hearing impairment.
- A clear escort policy should be laid down.
- All airports must have a procedure laid out on the use of ambulifts and staff deputed to assist PWDs should be trained to handle ambulifts.
- Minimum standards should be prescribed for equipment made available at airports for PWDs as wheelchairs, aisle chairs etc. that are made available are of very poor quality and inappropriate in many cases. For instance, while accessible toilets are made available, the wheelchairs PWDs are made to use at airports cannot access these toilets, thereby making the efforts at accessibility an eye wash,
- The CAR PWD should include provisions to allow PWDs to carry their own assistive devices on board within the cabin. These devices are highly customized. For instance, it could be electric wheelchairs for persons with mobility issues, augmentative communication devices for persons with communication disorders etc.
- The CAR PWD should recognize the rights of PWDs to receive the same relief and insurance coverage as other persons who are flying. Currently, to allow PWDs to fly, airlines randomly force PWDs to sign indemnity bonds waiving their all rights including right to insurance. This practice should be prohibited and clear norms should be laid down for circumstances in which airlines can demand such bonds from PWDs.
- The CAR PWD should lay down protocols to be followed by security personal vis-à-vis PWDs and these protocols should respect the right of PWDs to be treated with dignity. The security personnel should be sensitized as to the differing needs of PWDs should be emphasized. For instance, some PWDs have braces which are sometimes worn under their clothes. In airports that do not have facility for a full body scanner, PWDs are made to undress as part of the security check. Protocols should be prescribed for ensuring security without humiliating PWDs.
- Facilities for air travel – for booking tickets, at the airports and in-flight - should be made available accessible to PWDs. For example, the online booking systems should be accessible to the visually disabled. Airport facilities should be made accessible. Boarding announcements must not be made only through audio announcements but should be displayed at the counter and on displays for the benefit of people with hearing loss. Functional aisle chairs and wheel chairs (in proper condition) should be made available. Seat numbers must be large in size for the benefit of people with low vision and elderly. On-board safety instructions cards should be made available in alternate formats including large print and Braille. In-flight entertainment systems must be accessible to PWDs.
- Airlines/airports should be required to ensure that some of its staff members are familiar with sign language and communicating with people who have any kind of communication difficulties and atleast one such staff member should be available at hand in every shift. Alternatively, provision could be made for using video interpretation facility so that an interpreter from another location can be called remotely in as and when required.
- Persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities suffer sensory attacks, bewilderment, confusion and loss of reality (of space and time) as a result of use of textured surfaces and glass / reflective surfaces in airports; the long tunneling passageways without any kind of signage or direction etc. Therefore, signage in passageways, use of dull non-reflective surfaces and personal assistance at airports should be mandated under CAR PWD.
- The CAR PWD should have an effective grievance redressal and enforcement mechanism that is readily accessible to PWDs. Airlines and airports should make information readily available on whom and how to report a complaint of violation of CAR PWD. The duty officer at each airport could be made responsible to enforce the CAR PWD and the airlines could be required to have a facilitation desk at each airport where the telephone number of the DGCA duty officers are prominently displayed. A help line that a PWD can call immediately and seek redressal should be established. A legal officer who knows the regulations should be appointed in every airport or should be available through the help line. A mechanism for web based complaints and online redressal should be established. The redressal system should be connected to civil aviation ministry and ministry of law. The Ministry should track and report on complaints against airlines for violation of the CAR PWD and corrective action taken etc. Airlines must be penalized for violations, they should be required to compensate PWDs who suffer discrimination in violation of CAR PWD and they should be required to issue written apologies to the concerned persons. The CAR PWD should place special emphasis on training and sensitization of staff. Airlines should be required to undertake periodical training of staff handling issues of persons with disabilities. Instead of leaving assistance to PWDs to be left to persons handling luggage, staff who are deputed to assist PWDs should be staff who are specifically trained for this. Airlines must be mandated to provide the details of the training they have provided on a yearly basis to the DGCA. The DGCA must conduct routine checks to ensure that proper training is imparted. Where lifting of wheelchair becomes as a last resort, only trained staff should be allowed to handle the passenger and airlines should be required to engage and make such staff available. With the increase in number of flights, staff being in hurry leaves person in wheelchair stranded and unattended. Staff are forcing persons with disabilities to use airport wheelchairs, which are rarely in good condition. Most of the staff do not know where the accessible bathroom is, where to report for the grievances etc. All of these and other aspects should be addressed as part of the training process.
- Access audit and reviews and attitude audits of airlines and airports should be periodically undertaken by experts in the disability sector and the reports should be made available to the public.