Tuesday, 30 May 2006
Statement by Human Rights and Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner Mr Graeme Innes AM
Re: Disability access standards and airlines
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has received several media requests for comment on Virgin Blue's proposed Carer policy. The Commission is not able to make detailed comments about the policy because it may be subject to complaints to the Commission.
However, the following background information is supplied on federal standards for disability access to public transport as they relate to airlines.
The Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport recognise (clause 3.3) that because of design restrictions in aircraft, people may not be able to enter using their own wheelchairs and similar mobility aids. (Note: the Standards, made under the Disability Discrimination Act, came into force in 2002)
The standards, however, require that the operator of the conveyance must ensure equivalent access by direct assistance to passengers (except for small aircraft where even this may not be possible or safe) - but only if it can reasonably be provided without causing the transport operator "unjustifiable hardship".
If an airline requires a passenger who can freely move with his or her wheelchair to transfer from that chair to an airline one that does not give independent mobility, the airline would have to provide direct assistance unless it would cause the airline unjustifiable hardship.
Although the Commission has previously accepted arguments from small carriers or those with no cabin crew that assistance on board aircraft would impose unjustifiable hardship, there has been no such decision under the Disability Discrimination Act involving larger airlines or assistance within terminals.
An airline might argue that they should be exempt from the standards on safety grounds but such a claim would need to be carefully considered including thorough consultation with the public and with other relevant regulatory bodies.
Re: Access to toilets
Virgin Airlines has also referred to concerns regarding assistance in providing access to toilets. Accessible toilets are required to be provided only on wide body twin aisle aircraft in further recognition of design constraints (clause 15.5). For these aircraft it is specified that direct assistance to the toilet door must be provided - since a passenger using a wheelchair will be using an aisle chair rather than their own chair.
Media enquiries: Janine MacDonald (02) 9284 9677 or 0407 660 235
For information about the Commission"s complaint process, go to: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints_information/index.html
updated 12 May, 2006