March 2, 2012 – Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar, Hindu

Ms. Agarwal, a disability rights worker, was carted around on a luggage trolley at Delhi T3

Disability rights activist Anjlee Agarwal of Samarthyam, who was last week “literally thrown off a flight” in Raipur for objecting to the non-availability of an aisle chair, again had a harrowing experience with an airline. This time it was at Delhi’s swanky T3 terminal that Ms. Agarwal found herself being carted around on a luggage trolley with no side support as the Air India staff could not get her an aisle chair.

Narrating her experience, Ms. Agarwal, who was recently part of a major access audit for government buildings in Delhi, said she had to undergo the humiliation of being transported in a luggage trolley on Thursday while returning to Delhi from Mumbai via Air India flight AI 660.

At Mumbai, Ms. Agarwal said she had requested the Air India crew to get her an aisle chair while de-boarding at the T3 airport in New Delhi. However, when the flight reached the Delhi airport, the aisle chair was not there to help her de-board.

Request not met

“I had to wait for 20 minutes and finally, after lot of hue and cry, I got to see a luggage trolley for transferring me from the aircraft seat. I was carried in the luggage trolley chair which had just two wheels instead of four and also did not possess an armrest for side support,” she said.

Lamenting that this was the state of affairs at T3 in Delhi, which is supposed to be a “world class airport”, Ms. Agarwal said she had a harrowing time being hauled around on the luggage trolley. “I was not able to balance myself on the narrow seat, my feet were dangling and I kept asking for another aisle chair to be given to me while being carried to the aircraft gate.”

She said she lost her balance several times, as she has limb girdle muscular dystrophy. Apart from this, she “also felt extremely embarrassed and insulted as 12 to 13 persons [both the crew and ground staff] looked at me with pity!”

Due to such mishandling, Ms. Agarwal said she had to be physically shifted four times at the airport. “I was transferred again from the luggage trolley to another wheelchair at the aircraft gate. Then on reaching the conveyer belt [luggage belt], I got my wheelchair and was transferred onto it. Finally, I was transferred from my wheelchair to the taxi.”

Describing the experience as “very exhausting, disgraceful, scary and unsafe,” the rights activist said it was unfortunate that “still people with disabilities are seen as luggage and are discriminated against”.

Incidentally, this is the third major case of harassment to disabled passengers that has come to light within the past fortnight. Earlier in February, a SpiceJet pilot had forced Jeeja Ghosh, head of advocacy and disability studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy at Kolkata off a Goa-bound flight because he was “abnormal” and was not accompanied by help.

In view of such repeated incidents, Ms. Agarwal and Samarthyam have urged the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to come up with recommendations on handling persons with disability and to take immediate action against all airlines that are insulting disabled passengers and violating the policy rules.

Indemnity bond

“We want training of all ground staff, pilot and crew for transferring and handling persons with disabilities,” she said, demanding that people with disabilities should also not be made to sign an indemnity bond as it is discriminatory, since it does not cover people with hidden illnesses.

Among other things, the rights group has also demanded that aisle chairs should be made available in all aircraft for wheelchair users and all persons with disabilities should be allotted front and aisle seats, if requested.