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AirAsia airline deboards visually and hearing impaired activist at Pune airport

The incident happened on August 30 evening when Zamir Dhale, 44, was on his way to Delhi from Pune to catch a flight to Geneva where he had to address a meeting of disability experts organised by the United Nations.

Written by Saba Rahman | New Delhi | Updated: September 3, 2019 12:24:29 pm
Zamir Dhale is the founder of the Society for Empowerment of the Deaf-Blind, and almost always uses public transport without any assistance.

A disability rights activist, who is visually and hearing impaired, was made to deboard an AirAsia flight at Pune airport last week following the airline’s opinion that the passenger was incapable of travelling alone —  even as the activist insisted otherwise and showed relevant documents to back his claim.

The incident happened on August 30 evening when Zamir Dhale, 44, was on his way to Delhi from Pune to catch a flight to Geneva where he had to address a meeting of disability experts organised by the United Nations (UN). Dhale is the founder of the Society for Empowerment of the Deaf-Blind, and almost always uses public transport without any assistance.

While AirAsia India sent him in another flight to Delhi that was two hours later and he managed to catch the flight to Geneva, it did not happen before the activist made a call to a friend who alerted various disability activists.

“The irony of the incident is not lost on me. I was on my way to advocate for the rights of the disabled at the UN while I was myself being discriminated against. But then this was nothing new. I felt sad and helpless. However, I am not deterred. I have to continue to fight not only for myself but all such deaf-blind people like me,” told Dhale in an email to indianexpress.com from Geneva.

Dhale added: “Apparently, many phone calls were made (to the airline) and a lot of communication happened. That is when it was decided to accommodate me in another flight. I reached Delhi alright but I was delayed by two hours. Add to it the harassment and indignity I was subjected to. All this when I was carrying requisite documents validating that I can travel by myself.”

While Dhale was stranded at the airport, Dr Satendra Singh, another disability rights activist who teaches at University College of Medical Sciences, raised the issue with the airline. To which, AirAsia India replied: We sincerely regret the inconvenience and 2-hour delay in arriving at his destination caused by us re-accommodating Mr. Dhale on our next flight with necessary precautions.”

One of Dhale’s acquaintances, Shaked Khan, while responding to Dr Satendra Singh’s tweets on the incident, said: “I know Zameer. He is an independent person. When he can travel in Mumbai locals during rush hours unaccompanied, I fail to understand what security concerns were cited to deny him travel.”

Dr Singh added: “The airline assumed on its own that all persons who are deaf and blind are non-self-reliant and, therefore, require an attendant to travel. The airlines need to revisit their rules. In 2015, the Canadian Transportation Agency, for instance, ordered Air Canada to change its policy requiring people who are both deaf and blind to travel with a companion. The Air New Zealand policy in this respect is ideal.”

On its website, Air Asia India states that they generally prefer an able-bodied person to accompany a person who is disabled, It, however, adds that if the disabled person is able to do certain activities by themselves, they can then travel unaccompanied. Those activities include: Unfastening of seat belt, supporting yourself and reach an emergency exit unaided; retrieve and fit a lifejacket; don an oxygen mask without assistance; able to understand the safety briefing and any advice or instructions given by the crew; use the toilet; feed yourself and administer your own medicines and medical procedures.

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