By Toyin Adebayo
Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) have urged the aviation industry’s stakeholders to take their needs into account in its policies and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
This demand was made on Monday in Abuja during the 2nd Stakeholders Forum On Accessible Aviation, which was organized by the Centre for Ability, Rehabilitation and Empowerment (CARE) as part of their Accessible Aviation project and supported by Oxfam Voice.
The theme of the forum was Upscaling Sustainable And Achievable Policies Addressing Service Delivery To PWD in The Aviation Sector.
In his opening remarks, Dr Chike Okogwu, the Chief Executive Director of CARE, stated that the Accessible Aviation project, which is coming to a close, has accomplished many milestones.
“NCAA has mandated all airlines to inculcate in their websites an option to indicate that you are a person with a disability and the kind of assistance you need. The airlines have appointed handler companies to ensure that PWDs are well taken care of while boarding and disembarking”.
He also said that FAAN has allocated a place for CARE staff at Abuja airport to ensure that CARE has personnel on ground to assist PWDs.
“FAAN also ensured that there is a special area in all airports for a person with a disability to be taken care of”.
Also, NCAA ensured that their Customer Protection Service is extended to PWDs and they are making sure that PWDs are well taken care of at the airports.
“FAAN, went further to give a directive for Persons With Reduced Mobility(PRM) to park close to the entrance of the airport, all that a person with reduced mobility requires is to inform the security that he or she is a person with reduced mobility and they will direct him or her where to park but it is not going to last long to avoid disrupting other vehicular movements for long”.
“FAAN has also created a parking lot well marked for PWDs at Abuja airport”.
He informed us that CARE has come to the end of the first stage of the intervention and we are satisfied with what we have achieved so far, the story is no longer the same for PWDs at the airports.
“We are not yet where we should be but we are not where we used to be. It is a work in progress and there are assurances that what CARE has started will be sustained. We have gotten assurances from National Commission for Persons With Disabilities (NCPWD) to absorb CARE staff at the airport and continue with the project”.
With disabilities, because of insecurity, there is an extent the security could allow passengers but PWDs are not subjected to such restrictions upon their arrival at the airports.
Some stakeholders present raised some issues that should be considered in the policies and SOP of FAAN and other stakeholders within the aviation industry.
Some issues raised are there should be an understanding that there are different types of disability and their needs different. The Deaf will need sign language interpreters at the airports or inscription posters or visual display all around the airports, the blind needs audio announcement and a guide within the airports, Persons With Physical Disabilities need wheelchairs, Ambi lift, stair climber wheelchair, ramps, Persons With Albinism need the inscription or direction within the airports written boldly, umbrellas while boarding under the sun.
“There is concern about parking lots meant for PWDs being occupied by other people and not enough parking lots have been created, they asked for more to be created and demand a penalty for those who will park at the designated parking lot for persons with disabilities.
More so, blind persons raised concern about their luggage which they find difficult to identify, they plead for the separation of their luggage from others for easy identification; There is concern about the attitude of security personnel at the airports who oftentimes look down on PWDs and subject them to some ugly experiences.
“They suggested periodic training of the staff on how to deal with persons with disabilities at the airport; There is concern about the newly procured buses which they said don’t meet the requirement to guarantee access for wheelchair users.
“They are of the opinion that FAAN would have ordered wheelchair-friendly buses, and FAAN should advise airlines to acquire Ambi lifts and stair climber wheelchairs to avoid manhandling persons with disabilities while boarding especially women with disabilities who are being violated in the process.
Members of FAAN at the meeting (Nanloh Nuhu, FAAN OPS, Abubakar Aliyu, FAAN Servicom, Geoffrey Yeshima, FAAN OPS) assured the stakeholders that their concerns would be looked into and pledged to be in any meeting to deliberate on the concerns of PWDs that should be incorporated into policies and Standard Operations Procedure (SOP) of Stakeholders in the Aviation Industry.
We learnt that CARE will bring together stakeholders in the aviation industry, and NCPWD to chart the way forward towards the Implementation of the Disability Act as it affects air transportation.
The event witnessed the panel session which featured Adekunle Ade from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), Constance Onyemaechi from Women and Girls With Albinism Network, Aver Akighir from Hope Alive Possibilities Initiative.