March 12, 2012
Disabled passengers often face humiliation as they are asked to ‘stand up’ and remove assistive devices like leg braces and even urine bags

As frequency of instances of passengers with disabilities being discriminated by airlines continue to increase alarmingly, the Disabled Rights Group (DRG), India’s first cross-disability alliance, has unearthed a shockingly discriminatory policy in the name of ‘security’. Through a reply to an RTI application, it has come to light that the government’s security regulations for pre-embarkation screening are not only disability insensitive but also an outright insult and violation of the human rights of persons with disability.

In a reply to the RTI query on the procedure observed while frisking passengers with a disability, especially those using their own wheelchairs, the Airports Authority of India has furnished a procedure laid down by Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), the regulatory authority for civil aviation security in India. The regulations say: “Screeners should be thoroughly briefed that the possibility of carrying weapons/explosives and other dangerous materials through such passengers is higher than a normal passenger and therefore, these passengers need to be checked with care...there is no scope for leniency in respect of invalid/disabled/sick persons during the pre-embarkation screening/procedures. On the contrary, there is ample reason to be more alert and wary.”

As a result of this need to be “alert and wary”, disabled passengers face undue harassment at the hands of untrained security personnel. More often than not, disabled passengers using a wheelchair are asked to “stand up” or “transfer” from their personal wheelchair to sub-standard airport wheelchairs which are unsuitable for a disabled person based on their needs. What the security personnel are not trained in is that most wheelchair users use customised wheelchairs and cushions and therefore it is not advised for them to shift to the sub-standard airport wheelchairs. Again, most wheelchair users will also not be able to transfer on their own. And God forbid, if the passenger uses an electric wheelchair! And if the electric wheelchair user happens to have other medical equipment fitted to her/his wheelchair, she/he might as well stay cooped up in the house and give up any dream of air travel in India!!

Nowhere in the world, will a disabled person be asked to take off leg braces, or explain medical attachments like a leg bag that holds urine. This is not only humiliating but a violation of human rights. We are not asking for any leniency in security procedures. After all, civilised nations of the world have developed systems to ensure that disabled passengers are frisked with due respect to their dignity. Why can’t the Indian government learn from such practices and adapt them here.

Although, the Directorate of Civil Aviation guidelines clearly mention that a passenger is allowed to take her/his own wheelchair to the boarding gates, security personnel bully the average disabled passenger who is not vociferous about her/his rights.

What is even more shameful and embarrassing is that, other countries which have a greater security threat and by and large stricter security programmes have defined guidelines for screening passengers with disability. At no airport in the US, UK, EU and even countries like South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, and UAE will a disabled passenger using a wheelchair be asked to “get up” from her/his wheelchair. Till the Government of India continues to promote such blatant human rights violations of 70 million and more citizens with disabilities, more and more cases of disabled passengers being harassed, humiliated and off loaded by airlines will continue to happen.