Airlines have failed to meet a July deadline to submit plans on how to improve treatment of disabled passengers, as wheelchair-reliant, blind and intellectually impaired people flood government agencies with complaints.
The disability commissioner, Graeme Innes, says people have been left on planes for 45 minutes until cleaners have found them because staff have failed to assist them to disembark. Others have been lost in terminals or bumped at check-in because of limits on assistance dogs per flight.
Mr Innes blamed staff cutbacks and called for the government to step in and regulate to stop airlines ignoring the needs of disabled passengers.
Advertisement: Story continues below Airlines were breaching the Disability Discrimination Act, Mr Innes said, and called for tougher aviation safety laws.
''I don't think airlines are taking this stuff seriously enough. I think that the government needs to regulate … They have had 17 years to get this stuff right, but they are still not getting it right,'' he told the Herald.
Jetstar caused an uproar last year when it forced the Paralympian Kurt Fearnley to check in his wheelchair as luggage, leaving him to crawl through Brisbane Airport in protest at the unsuitable alternative wheelchair offered to him.
An industry working group had agreed all airlines and airports would submit plans on how they catered for disabled passengers but only Rex and three airports met the deadline.
Mr Innes said incidents included three wheelchair users being told airline policy limited each flight to two wheelchairs, and an airline forgetting a passenger and leaving the person on the plane. ''The cleaners rock up and say: 'Oh, what are you doing here?''' Mr Innes said.
Mr Innes said it was not an isolated case. ''There just aren't enough staff. The things that are different - getting a chair to the door of the plane, guiding a blind person from the plane to the terminal - those extra jobs are the first ones to fall off.''
His call for tougher laws was made at a disability and international aid forum attended by Coalition and Labor MPs, including the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd.
Mr Innes also expressed his disappointment that Australia's international aid program was not doing more to directly help the disabled, who were the ''poorest of the poor'' in developing countries.
Mr Rudd said $88 million had been allocated by AusAid since 2008 to disability-inclusive aid programs.
But Mr Innes, who is blind, said disability aid money was focused on preventing avoidable blindness and traffic accidents, which were health issues. ''There's nothing wrong with preventing disability, just don't take it out of the disability budget,'' he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said a $30.2 million in aid for disabled groups and equipment did not appear in a Labor election document but its funding remained intact.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Sydney Morning Herald:
Posted by BA Haller at 8:44 AM