Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sudha Chandran ‘harassment’ fallout: Govt issues draft guidelines for ensuring accessibility to flyers with disabilities

New Delhi: Days after actor Sudha Chandran shared her ordeal at an airport after being asked to remove her prosthetic limb at security check and appealed for Prime Minister Modi’s intervention, the Union aviation ministry on Tuesday issued “draft accessibility standards and guidelines for persons with disabilities” — laying out dos and dents for both airlines and airport operators. The ministry has invited suggestions and comments on the same within three weeks, and then after studying them the final guidelines will be issued, as envisaged in the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017.

Accordingly, airports may soon need to have dedicated parking lots for persons with disabilities (PwD) very close to terminal buildings. And there could also be earmarked pick-up and drop zones for the physically challenged at city-side kerbs, with kerbs or ramps at level changes. Airports will need to have check-in counters accessible by wheelchair where priority will be given to those with reduced mobility. They would also require to have accessible toilets.

Security check areas will have a lane each for males and females with disabilities. The advisory includes how to sensitively screen passengers with prosthetics. Such passengers will inform airlines beforehand and pass through door frame metal detectors. They would then “be taken to a private screening point and made to sit comfortably… will receive additional screening, including pat down. If necessary, screening thorough explosive trace detector (ETD) will be adopted. While dealing with prosthetic device and during taking off and putting clothes, privacy of passengers to be maintained,” the draft says. Two officers will carry out screening — one with and held metal detector and pat down and the other to inspect the prosthetics/braces and subject them to additional screening.

Baggage claim areas will also need to have an earmarked space for the disabled, with the space clearly visible through the universal symbol of accessibility marked on the ground.

The draft guidelines cover all aspects of air travel — right from coming to an airport to catch a flight at the origin to leaving the destination airport. It also provides for a service animal/pet relief area (SARA). Low floor buses have been proposed, preferably with retractable steps or ramps, to be used for seamless movement of wheelchair users while travelling between aircraft and terminals.

The draft advises people with disability should inform airlines 48 hours before scheduled departure time so that the latter can serve them better. Airlines could be asked to have PwD-related information on their website along with the feature to book a wheelchair. While airport operators are primarily responsible for provision wheelchairs, airlines have also been asked to keep some. “In case a customer wants to check-in own wheelchair (manual/automated), airline shall ensure that the same is duly tagged and sent to baggage make up area..” the draft says.

Customers have been advised to check with airlines on the specific requirements to bring a service animal on the flight. Transit passenger will need to check if all the airlines they are travelling on allow service animals.

“Customers should not be insisted to check-in their assistive equipment. They may give (the same) at aircraft door which would be given back after landing,” the draft says.

26/10/21 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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