It is very difficult to reconcile with how inaccessible the airline and airport industries still are in 2022.
Many people with disabilities do not have access to a toilet when on a flight, how demeaning.
Do you think you could hang on for multiple hours until you arrive at a destination? Many people don't have a choice.
The website: www.icantstandpodcast.com
References for this episode
Peta [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the I Can't Stand podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy. I'm your host and I love to answer your questions. This week has been a real labour of love. So much so. It's the longest record I have ever done. In the year and a half since having the podcast, if it is a long one with many parts, it only indicates the importance of this topic and how meaty this topic is and how many barriers people with disabilities experience when we consider this topic. So without any further ado, let's get into it.
[00:01:04] As some of you may know, recently I went on an aeroplane. I haven't been on a long distance flight for a long time, and I was pretty nervous. There are so many inherent barriers to engaging with airports and airlines and air travel when you have a disability. It's a very confronting experience. And as I said on Instagram at the time. Travel removes so much of my dignity. I choose to travel because I don't want my disability to stop me. But at the same time, I was crying on the morning of the trip. I worry that my wheelchair is going to get damaged. I worry that it's going to get lost. And then what do we do? There's always a slight concern that I might get injured because there is a lot of manual handling involved getting on a plane. My major worry is access to a bathroom. Luckily, and I did not know this at the time. There is a changing places toilet at Melbourne Airport. I had just happened to walk past it and noticed that it was there. I spoke to a cleaner nearby the toilet and asked. How long the toilet had been there, and she said had been there about a week. So the toilet gods were looking down on me. I was able to use the bathroom at the airport. Without that changing places toilet. It means that I have to hang on from the time I leave home. The whole process through the airport. The whole flight. And then to the hotel. So while I still had to hang on from the time I was on the plane. All the way from Melbourne to Cairns. I felt more confident in my ability to hang on for four or 5 hours. I stopped drinking the night before, so my last glass of water was about 4:00, the night before or the afternoon before. And I didn't drink the whole day until we got to the hotel. Don't worry. My first drink was not a margarita. Might have been the second, but it was not the first. While I was researching this episode, I had forgotten that there is something called an accessible toilet on an aeroplane. But it's not what you might think. Just because it's accessible in the aviation industry, the AIS does not mean it's accessible in actuality. According to the Melbourne Airport website and all the links within the description. Larger aeroplanes have one accessible toilet. The aircrafts that have this facility are a Boeing 747. A Boeing 767. A Boeing 777. A Boeing 787. An Airbus A330. An Airbus A340 and an Airbus A380. And I think the word accessible toilet when it comes to aviation really is misleading. An accessible toilet means in regards to aviation that there is a connecting door between one and toilet to. It's like a screen that's folded back. This internal change to now the accessible toilet in quotation marks does not change the width of the entry door into the actual toilet. This means that for many people, including myself, we're still not able to enter into the now bigger toilet. It also doesn't change the fact that there are no handrails and the toilet is in an accessible height. The sink isn't accessible for many people. And frankly, because as a disabled person, you are trying to adapt and manipulate yourself for your wheelchair or your mobility aids to a space that isn't designed for us. We're more likely to get injured as well.
[00:05:57] From my research, it seems that my experiences seem to be quite in line with what other people with disabilities experience. In many research papers there were complaints in regards to lack of provision of user friendly on board restrooms. A lack of understanding in regards to wheelchair surfaces and the distance between the restroom on board and the seat on the actual aeroplane can also be an issue. Wait times also create lots of issues for people with disabilities. I can't imagine what would happen to me if we had to wait longer at an airport that didn't have a bathroom that I could access, for example. A multitude of the research that I read have asserted that passengers that require special assistance, including people with disabilities. One of the fastest growing demographics for aviation worldwide. Many people throughout my research stated that a lot of the booking systems don't account for people with disabilities. You have to pick up the phone and physically ring someone. Still these days, because the automated systems don't account for people with disabilities and their varying needs. Now, many of you would think, oh, this is a great opportunity for a travel agent to help. Now, I obviously haven't had the services of every travel agent out there. I'm sure there are great ones. But in my experience, there is always something that is overlooked or forgotten. Because after all, you know your disability better than anyone else. So sometimes the travel agent can't. Pre predict or fully understand the sort of barriers that you're going to encounter during your trip. All the research I've read says that people with disabilities are required to contact the airline prior to their trip. Which is very relevant and good advice. It is essential to speak to as many people as you possibly can. Get as many things in writing as you possibly can. As you would all probably understand, you can be assured on the phone that things will go well, but that person on the phone is often not the person that you're interacting with on the ground. So if you have anything in writing, it's always better to present that to the customer service person when they don't quite understand what you need. Another interviewee in the study said the size of the aeroplane toilets was the sole reason why I was put off travelling by plane. So it's clearly not just me. Air travel is generally very dehydrating and without fluid intake, people risk more significant dehydration and other side effects. Another interviewee of the study, Kirsty, said We only catch flights about an hour long so I don't have to access the toilets. This is how limiting the aeroplane design is for people with disabilities. People literally are deciding not to fly for more than an hour. Another common theme that throughout all the research that I have read is the need for better training of airline staff and airport staff in regards to disabled needs and disabled people. I thought this was what I was going to do. I thought I was going to be a disability assistant at the Melbourne Airport. I knew I would be really good at it, and I knew I could alleviate a lot of people's anxiety when it comes to travel, because I clearly, by just looking at me, probably have a better understanding of what it's like for you than it does for other people without disabilities. Unfortunately, those roles don't seem to exist yet.
[00:10:41] I came across something that I'd never heard of before. While researching for this episode, something called a barrier free airport. Doesn't that sound like heaven? So this barrier free airport that I found some research on is the Asian giant airport in Turkey. Apologies if I'm not pronouncing that correctly. It's a small, mainly domestic airport in Turkey. So I was quite surprised to see this held up as a barrier free airport. And this study for me really highlighted one of the main challenges when travelling particularly overseas. The definition of accessible really varies from place to place. While yes, this airport did have accessible parking, the pathways weren't flat and the ramp slopes were significant. So people in manual wheelchairs or self-propelled wheelchairs were not able to go up those ramps or those pathway independently. Not exactly barrier free even before you get in the door. There were tactile service indicators, but they were not consistent throughout the building, which makes it really difficult. I'm sure as a visually impaired person, you could literally become stranded in a middle of a room, not knowing what direction to go to next. There were Braille in the lifts, which was great. The signage was not consistent as far as colour contrast or font size, which can make it really difficult for people with vision impairment. The flooring was not consistent, which is also an issue for people in wheelchairs, mobility, AIDS, and people with vision impairments using canes. There was one disabled toilet in this airport, but it certainly wasn't a changing places toilet with a hoist. What was really good and I'm going to try and focus on the positive at this airport those three things. One was the fact that the service counter when you first arrive and the customs counters had options that were lower than for people who are standing. If I was there as somebody in a wheelchair, I could speak to this customer service representative, or I could speak to the customs person stamping my passport. Speak to them and look them in the eye. The other thing, which I thought was really good. Both the active. Illustration of the airport trying to make things more accessible for disabled people. That pure representation of the international symbol of accessibility, which is basically the blue symbol with the wheelchair. Having that around the airport illustrates to people with disabilities and also people without disabilities. That people with disabilities do, in fact travel and that we're welcome throughout this process. For a little regional airport in Turkey. Pretty cool.
[00:14:17] The last bit of information I'm going to talk to you about is pretty vital, actually. It's called the right to Travel by air of Persons with Disabilities. Basically it's this pretty amazing and somewhat dense publication, many, many, many pages talking about the human rights and the actual laws that are put in place that allow people with disabilities to access and have their human right to travel. Access is not an act of state, but a freedom to enter, to approach, to communicate with, to pass to or from, or to make use of physical, environmental and societal structures, goods and services, systems and processes regardless of type and degree of disability, gender or age. When looking at that from that big macro angle, it is clear that aviation and airlines fit within those definitions. Unfortunately for people with disabilities, the right to travel by air has not been addressed in any UN human rights treaties. Obviously the principle of non-discrimination plays a prominent role in all international law. There is an obligation to respect human rights and respect people with disabilities. There's an obligation to protect human rights and therefore protect people with disabilities. And there is an obligation to fulfil human rights and therefore fulfil our needs as people with disabilities. But as you can see, this sort of grey, not clear definition that we do not actually have the right to travel when incorporating human rights law is probably why it is so difficult for people with disabilities.
[00:16:37] Now, the Convention for Human Rights of People with Disabilities describes an obligation to accommodate people with disabilities to a reasonable standard. I tell you what, guys. We've got a long way to go when it comes to accessibility. An airline's. And I really hope that someone, if not me, someone, can make this system more inclusive for people with disabilities. Because after all, if I put my business hat on, we are one in five. I would say a lot of us don't engage with the tourism system to the extent of other demographics in society. However much it would take as far as cost to re-engineer a disabled toilet that is actually accessible and doesn't discriminate, someone according to their ability to transfer would be far outweighed by the economic stimulation and the amount of positive PR that an airline would get by making their airlines barrier free. I mean, it's 2022. The fact that people with disabilities, I would have said, are one of the last demographics that are, I would say, directly discriminated against by this industry is just mind boggling to me.
[00:18:17] I hope you found that episode enlightening and entertaining, and I hope you're going to be listening in next week for part two. If you did enjoy the episode, can I encourage you to leave a rating and review? I've noticed that we got three new ratings last week and it just made my day. So thank you for those anonymous people who did that. I really, really appreciate it. You can obviously do that via Apple Podcasts. If you listen via another platform like Google or Spotify, please share it with a friend. It really does help more people find the podcast. Okay, guys, he must be sick of my voice by now, so I'm going to go until next week. Bye.