11 04 2008

Airline discrimination ‘endemic’

April 11, 2008

Herald Sun

http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,23522691-5005961,00.html

The advent of low cost airlines in Australia and their over-zealous interpretation of safety regulations has led to greater discrimination against people with disabilities, the disability watchdog says.

A group of deaf people from Melbourne has launched a discrimination case against Tiger Airways after the budget carrier insisted they travel with a carer last month.

Federal disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes says the problem isn’t limited to Tiger.

“There have been endemic problems in airlines over the past few years where people with disabilities have been refused carriage because of their disability,” Mr Innes said on Sky News.

“The introduction of low cost airlines has been one of the reasons.”

Mr Innes said they often applied unnecessarily strenuous or zealous interpretations of airline safety regulations and their staff weren’t trained well enough.

“What you get sometimes are individual decisions which are outside airline policies,” he said.

In 2006, Virgin Blue was forced to back down over its policy requiring wheel chair-bound passengers to be accompanied by a carer. It was currently fighting a federal court case over alleged discrimination, he said.

Last week, Mr Innes co-chaired a forum with Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities Services Bill Shorten to discuss how disabled people were treated by airlines.

The forum included the main airlines, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and government representatives.

Mr Shorten said the Government was concerned that discrimination was taking place “in the name of safety”.

“But the reality is most people with impairment can understand (safety) instructions and fly,” Mr Shorten said on Sky News.

Mr Shorten said Tiger was wrong to insist deaf passengers travelled with a carer.

“People who are deaf can still see and all emergency safety briefings have pictorial representations,” he said.

“Just because people are deaf doesn’t mean that they’re stupid.”

He said Qantas had the best policy: “If you can’t self-medicate and self-see then you need a carer”.

But Mr Shorten said individual flight attendants were not to blame.

Better training and awareness about disability was needed, he said.

“The airline industry needs to reach out to people with disability.”

Comment is being sought from Tiger Airways.

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