Disabled get ambulift after hour's fight
Shalini Umachandran, TNN Aug 23, 2011, 01.03pm IST
CHENNAI : Two disabled women who travelled from Delhi to Chennai spent more than an hour arguing with airline staff on Monday when they were refused an ambulift to leave the plane.
Smitha Sadasivan, a wheelchair user with multiple sclerosis, and B Meenakshi, who uses crutches, landed in Chennai from Delhi on Air India flight IC 429 at 1.15pm on Monday. The airline staff said the ambulift — used to raise and lower passengers with limited mobility from an aircraft — was under maintenance and so they would have to carry the women down from the plane.
"The Air India staff and crew said four men would carry the wheelchairs down," said Meenakshi, who is also a member of the Disability Rights Alliance. "The civil aviation rules clearly state that ambulifts should be provided to passengers who need them. Apart from the fact that carrying us violates our dignity, it is also extremely unsafe," she said.
When the women refused to budge for over an hour, the airline staff gave in. "Within 15 minutes the ambulift was at the aircraft," said Sadasivan. "If the situation had been so bad, how did they manage to get the ambulift within 15 minutes? Why did we have to fight for it for an hour," she says.
Air India officials declined to comment immediately. Airport authorities, however, said the airline had two ambulifts, one of which was not working. The Airports Authority of India also maintains an ambulift, which it hires out to airlines for Rs 3,000 per use. An ambulift works on a mechanism similar to the one used to lift catering vans to the aircraft.
"The crew called managers who told us to adjust. They felt we were being adamant, but we explained that we are not comfortable being carried. A Supreme Court order also makes it mandatory to provide the ambulift," said Sadasivan. Both had mentioned that they were disabled and wheelchair users when they booked their tickets the previous day.
Most private airlines do not provide these facilities despite the Persons with Disabilites Act, 1995, stating that disabled people should have equal accessibility to all transport facilities. The directorate general of civil aviation has made ambulifts mandatory at airports. "The women knew their rights so they stood their ground, but rights of ordinary disabled people are violated regularly," said Javed Abidi, convenor of Delhi's Disabled Rights Group, who filed a public interest litigation to make provision of ambulifts mandatory in 1997.
Monday's incident is not an isolated one. On Sunday night, T M N Deepak, who uses crutches, travelled to Chennai on a private airline. He was told he would have to be carried from the aircraft as they did not provide ambulift facilities. "I did not want to be carried as it is undignified and unsafe. I decided to walk but airline stairs are not easy to navigate on crutches," he said.