The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) had convened a meeting today to get inputs from the disability sector with respect to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for screening passengers with disabilities.
The meeting was called in the background of the protests against the insensitivity and inappropriateness displayed by security personnel at airports while checking persons with disabilities, which in many instances leave such persons humiliated and traumatized.
There have been several instances in the recent past where persons with disabilities using artificial legs (prosthetic aid), wheel chair users, and persons with visual impairments, etc. have had to undergo indignity merely because of lack of awareness, training and sensitivity of the personnel and agencies concerned. There are not clear rules/procedures for security checks of persons with disabilities at the airports in the Civil Aviation Rules (CAR) on Carriage by Air Persons with Disability and/or Persons with Reduced Mobility.
The disability sector was represented at the meeting by Ms. Anjlee Agarwal, Executive Director of Samarthyam, National Centre for Accessible Environment and Mr. Muralidharan, Assistant Convener of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled (NPRD).
Placing the views of the sector Anjlee Agarwal and Muralidharan emphasized that while increasing security threats pose a challenge to security personnel in charge of airport security, procedures have to be so devised that security checks on persons with disabilities are done in a manner which is both dignified and do not in any manner seem to be intrusive of their privacy. They urged that a system be put in place where prosthesis users, wheelchair users, those using braces, crutches, and other such assistive devices undergo a search without stripping and removing the artificial limb or making them transfer from their wheelchairs. These suggested procedures are as per international best practices. They also highlighted issues regarding hidden disabilities like hearing impairment, Autism etc. and severe disabilities such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation, etc.
They emphasized that security personnel need to be sensitized as to the diverse needs of persons with disabilities. The fact that two persons using similar kind of assistive devices do not have similar needs should be borne in mind while carrying out security checks. For example, two persons using wheelchairs would have different requirements, based on their disabilities.
Anjlee demonstrated assisted wheelchair transfer to highlight that it is extremely cumbersome and unsafe to transfer in a wheelchair other than those prescribed for use, which are customised as per our needs. Also, due to security reasons the wheelchairs provided by airlines have four small wheels making it impossible to move independently and use basic services like wash rooms, eatable counters, etc.
A you tube video on prosthetic aid was shown to raise awareness among the BCAS decision makers in the meeting that how difficult and undignified it is to take off the prosthetic limb for the sake of passing it through the X-ray machine. This may also damage the aid while passing in the luggage conveyer belt of the X-ray machine if improperly handled!
A sensitization, refresher orientating training and SOP amendment in light of the diverse needs of persons with disabilities during security checks should be imparted regularly to all who come in direct contact with the passengers at the airport.
Detailed suggestions from the perspective of persons with diverse disabilities were submitted at the meeting, based on inputs received from several organizations and individuals working in the sector (including but not restricted to Amba Salelkar of Inclusive Planet, Suranjana Ghosh, Rajesh Bhatia, Smiti Bhatia and Nilesh Singit) drawing attention to the varied manner in which each specific disability has to be approached in the matter of screening and security. The note is attached herewith.
"We are hopeful that the BCAS will adopt a SOP that would incorporate practices that would make air travel comfortable, safe and dignified for all, including persons with disabilities," disability advocates said.
In July, Anjlee Agarwal threatened street rallies against Jet Airways in protest for the airline's disability discrimination tactics.