Swarga Foundation workshop at Coimbatore airport builds sensitivity towards needs of disabled travelers
Swarnalatha J, founder of the well-known NGO Swarga Foundation, travels often by air. Last year, she had an unfortunate experience where she was de-boarded from an Air India flight at Coimbatore airport because she was a wheelchair user. The excuse airport authorities gave her was that they did not have wheelchair ramps, nor did they want to risk carrying her on her wheelchair.
As someone committed to making accessibility a way of life, the incident brought home to Swarnalatha that this was a common experience with many passengers on wheelchairs routinely de-boarded by airlines. So, she took up the initiaitive of sensitizing Coimbatore airport staff about how to handle passengers with disabilities. Over 150 staffers took part in the awareness session.
Swarnalatha believes the training will help ensure people with disabilities are treated with dignity and sensitivity.
After the incident that happened to me, I contacted the airport authorities who were willing to hold awareness sessions. Inaccessibility, even inside airports and flights are issues that we face often. So whether the passenger is visually impaired or deaf, they offer a wheelchair. They do not even know the purpose of a wheelchair! Clearly, a visually impaired or deaf person needs assistance and not a wheelchair. Awareness session was conducted so that staffs get to know in detail about all this-Swarnalatha J, Founder, Swarga Foundation
Videos were played where disabled people were projected as achievers. The discrimination faced by people with disabilities was also highlighted so that there is more empathy and understanding about community members. Apart from people with disabilities, even elderly people undergo issues at airports, which were highlighted.
"All the airport staffers were open to this idea. They agreed that they never realised problems faced by a disabled person while travelling", said Swarnalatha. "Even caregivers undergo many problems. Like for instance, if an elderly mother is travelling with her son and she wants to use the washroom, she is unable to do it without help. Her son cannot accompany her to the ladies washroom. It is high time that airport staffs become aware of all this and finds solutions.
Prince Durairaj, a para volleyball player based in Coimbatore says that this is a great initiative by Swarga Foundation.
"People with disabilities often face discrimination at railway stations and even airports. In fact, it is the responsibility of the Airport Authority of India to ensure that there is 100% accessibility in airports. I'am glad that Swarga Foundation came forward with this initiative, he says.
Sessions like these are welcome and go a long way towards building sensitization. Perhaps NGOs across India could take a leaf out of Swarga Foundation's move and hold such sessions in their cities. While sensitization sessions are held in major airports in the big cities, it's smaller ones that tend to get overlooked.