Peak bodies Blind Citizens Australia (BCA) and Deafblind Australia (DBA) have called on all airlines to implement policies to make their practices fully inclusive and respectful towards all passengers, irrespective of their impairment. Last week, twenty-one-year-old Vanessa Vlajkovic was prevented from boarding the Jetstar flight she had booked from Perth to Adelaide because she is deafblind. Ms Vlajkovic requested assistance when she booked the flight and stated she was deafblind, but her loss of both sight and hearing was not recorded by the airline in its entirety. The notes only mentioned her hearing loss.
Jetstar apologised and said that if they had been aware that Ms Vlajkovic is deafblind, the airline would have advised her that she would not be permitted to fly without a carer being with her.
Jetstar’s treatment of Ms Vlajkovic last week was disgraceful according to BCA and DBA. Jetstar’s failure to accommodate Ms Vlajkovic’s needs was discriminatory and presents limitations for people who are deafblind that other passengers are not subjected to.
“I am more familiar with my limitations than ANYONE else, I will not willingly put myself in harm’s way. If I thought I couldn’t fly alone I wouldn’t,” said Ms Vlajkovic. “It isn’t the administration error itself of not entering my disability that is the issue. The ignorance is the worst bit, and I hope to see that change soon. The airline’s job is to accommodate my needs, not kick me off a flight simply because they see fit.”
“The claim that Jetstar made saying that Ms Vlajkovic’s safety would be at risk if she did not travel without a carer is baseless,” said David Murray, CEO of DBA. “Technology is readily available which enables the communication gap that once existed between people who are deafblind and their non-disabled peers to be easily overcome.” Ms Vlajkovic uses an iPhone combined with a braille display. This technology enables her to both read incoming communication which she can receive via text, and to send her responses via text also.
“People who are deafblind use a wide variety of methods to communicate depending on what situation they are in,” said Rikki Chaplin, President of DBA. “This does not mean that people who use their sight and hearing to communicate are prevented from interacting with people who are deafblind. That’s why it’s so important for airlines to develop policies based on demonstrated evidence, rather than ill-informed perceptions of how people with disabilities interact with others.”
It is this message which Deafblind Australia and Blind Citizens Australia wish to convey to all airlines.
“At a time when society is working towards becoming more inclusive of people with disabilities, it is disgraceful for any airline to think that they are exempt,” said Emma Bennison, CEO of BCA.
“We live in a time when technology has the potential to make genuine inclusivity a reality for people who are deafblind, and we fully support DBA and Ms Vlajkovic in holding Jetstar accountable.”
BCA has been working closely with airlines to ensure that their practices are fully inclusive. BCA and DBA call on Jetstar to join other airlines in collaborating with people who are deafblind to ensure that their policies and procedures are truly inclusive.