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Disability rights leader Arman Ali suffers harassment aboard Emirates flight, to file formal complaint

Arman Ali, the well-known disability rights activist and Executive Director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP) will file a formal complaint with Emirates over the prolonged harassment he faced while flying to Geneva from New Delhi and back for a United Nations convention.

"Fly Better". Leading international carrier Emirates Airlines needs to do more to live up to what it promises in its latest campaign, says disability rights leader Arman Ali.

Arman, who is the Executive Director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People (NCPEDP) had a harrowing experience while flying Emirates from New Delhi to Geneva, Switzerland and back. A wheelchair user, Arman travels frequently, and was in Geneva to attend a United Nations convention. The trip was planned in advance and he had informed Emirates of his needs as a person with disability,

Yet, in his own words, he was made to "feel like a dog, a piece of luggage".

People with disabilities have their own needs, just like the elderly, or someone with knee problems for instance and the aviation industry needs to understand that. We have our individual, personal choices too. In my case, I wanted a front row window seat so I am not disturbed when people go to the loo on the flight. Emirates refused me that even after I gave prior notice. Worse, at Dubai airport, I was denied the use of my wheelchair. What they gave me was of a kind that I could not use independently in the washroom. - Arman Ali, Executive Director, National Centre for Promotion of Employment of Disabled People

Arman took to social media to voice his experience and received the standard "We will look into this response" from Emirates. He faced a similar experience on his way back home, despite reaching out to the travel agent.

"I went to the airport in Geneva four hours earlier than I needed to to ensure I don't have issues." Arman got the seat he wanted but on the condition that he would have to shift if the crew objected. "I had a four-hour layover in Dubai where I was refused my own wheelchair and before boarding I was made to wait for 40 minutes in the ambulance".

Arman sounds angry and bitter about the overall attitude and treatment.

"You are regarded like a dog, you are left in an area apart from the main area and someone comes to you just before departure and asks if you want to use the loo. They were so rude. I have travelled by smaller airlines like Air Nepal and faced a much better experience. It's the larger airlines that fail you repeatedly".

Arman plans to take this up with Emirates in a serious way. "Dubai is promoting itself as a tourist hub. Why should I not access all that? I am paying for the ticket like everyone else. You cannot confine me to a particular space!"

The reactions to Arman's posts show that this is not a one off. Take the experience of deaf-blind activist Zamir Dhale who was made to deboard an AirAsia flight at Pune airport while traveling to the Geneva convention. The airline decided he was incapable of travelling alone, even though Zamir showed relevant documents to prove that he could.

Among those to show solidarity is Jo Chopra McGowan of the Latika Roy Foundation who tweeted - "This is unacceptable. How would you like to be stranded without your legs? Wheelchairs mean mobility and freedom to those who use them".

Accessibility expert Subhash Vashishth also pointed out that this is a violation of international aviation norms. "This is absolutely insensitive and far removed from the standards Emirates boasts to provide. The protocols for travel of persons with reduced mobility by air as per International Civil Aviation Organization are openly defied".

Such oversights need to be addressed on a war footing, emphasises Arman. "The aviation industry needs to work on building understanding urgently because the number of passengers with disabilities is increasing and they need to do more".

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