Media Release: Airlines Not Listening to the Needs of Deafblind Australians

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.

View the full media release here.

Your Advocacy is the Unique You

Martin Stewart


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Editor’s Note

Martin Stewart, with support from BCA, was last year instrumental in inspiring Telstra not only to make significant accessibility fixes to all their AFL and NRL apps, but also to hire two world-class app developers with experience writing accessible software.

It seems that by raising awareness of the issue, Martin has helped the telecommunications giant make a new, more sustainable commitment to accessibility. Here, he offers compelling insight into his perspective on advocacy, and an optimistic vision of a more inclusive future.


As I mingle and circulate, I often hear it said, “let’s face it, I can’t change this”. “It doesn’t matter what I do or say”. “My opinions do not count”.

These are understandable feelings of alienation and disempowerment. Such feelings are experienced and expressed more often within minority groups. Although this is easily rationalised because of mainstream attitudinal ignorance and therefore outcomes, I say let’s reject such negatives and replace them with the power of our natural, strong and unique character print.

I can hear you asking, “what does this mean”? Here is my explanation, which is based upon my many years of advocacy experience.

Every human being has a unique DNA makeup. This impacts upon how we individually interact. Therefore, each of us possesses what I describe as a unique character print. I strongly suggest that this very individual personality, that each of us has, is actually naturally required to complete society’s jigsaw puzzle. Without you, your opinions, actions and skills, society itself is the loser.

In days gone by, people would refer to sayings such as “the power of the pen” or “the pen is mightier than the sword”. These descriptive sayings were meant to convey the influence that an individual could wield by the simple act of handwriting. Of course for many of us blind or low vision citizens, our words were then primarily produced by writing in brilliant braille.

Thanks to technology, our expression horizons have truly broadened. Now we can express ourselves in so many varying formats, and on social media. For example, I am currently using voice interactive software to produce what you are now reading. This, in the recent past, was simply not possible. This being said, if you choose to make your unique mark by expressing yourself using older technology, such as a pen or landline phone, this is definitely you speaking your own way.

With technology, such as language translators, I believe the cultural gaps are being bridged, and the world is becoming smaller, therefore the opportunity to influence is becoming larger. The use of words, rather than fists, to influence outcomes is increasingly society’s preferred language.

I optimistically believe that this slow but sure global change is the key to true equality and equal opportunity. When this occurs we will no longer be a minority, instead each one of us will be a valued and unique contributor to humanity.

Despite steps back, I believe that this change is happening. Your advocacy is as good as you and your words. You have been born with traits which we need to be influenced by. I hope that we all can respond accordingly when we next face the inevitable advocacy challenge, with self-worth in mind.


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Immigration Advocacy: Two Recent Cases

Rikki Chaplain, Advocacy Officer


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Involvement with the Department of Immigration can be a harrowing process for anyone, but it is even more so for people with a disability. It is common for people with disabilities to be refused permanent residency in Australia, on the grounds that the cost of supporting them will be too great a financial burden on society.

BCA’s advocacy team has been assisting two people who are blind to remain in Australia permanently. Let’s look at each situation more closely.


Case Study 1

A 99-year-old man from Vietnam has been living with his family, who have been providing all of the support he requires. This man is totally blind and does not receive any financial support from the Australian government, or help from medical or allied health services.

His family insist on providing complete care for him, unless there is a medical emergency which requires him to be hospitalised. The man and his family have not even asked for support from a blindness service provider, as he feels that all his needs are met within the family home.

The Department of Immigration refused this man permanent residency, on the grounds that he would be a financial burden on Australian society. The family chose to appeal the decision, taking their case to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Their immigration lawyer contacted BCA for assistance.

As BCA’s advocacy officer, I wrote a letter of support, demonstrating that this man would not be a financial burden to Australia, and reminding the panel of Australia’s human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The letter also explained that due to the man’s age, sending him back to his home country without support from his family would impose stresses upon him which would likely shorten his life. It emphasised that his family are more than willing to continue providing any form of support the man would need at their own expense.

We were very pleased to be advised that the man was successful in appealing his case. His immigration lawyer stated that the victory was most likely due to the strong support letter provided by BCA.


Case Study 2

A 30-year-old man who is totally blind approached BCA for assistance to support his application for a second Safe Haven (protection) visa. A Safe Haven visa lasts for five years, and he is approaching the end of his first five-year visa. The Department of Immigration prefers recipients of this visa to live and work in a regional area of Australia for 42 months out of the five-year period.

This man chose not to live in a regional area, due to the lack of opportunities and services available to him. The man has found work in a capitol city, and is studying at university. He also needs to access blindness services to develop his life skills and thereby increase his independence. He sought support from BCA to validate his need to remain in a capital city when he applies for his second protection visa.

While his application has not yet been lodged, BCA has argued that the man is already contributing to his community, and to Australian society more broadly, by working and studying. He does not receive a Disability Support Pension (blind), and is not a financial burden on society.

His achievements demonstrate his determination, and suggest that he will make much greater contributions in the future as a result of his studies and improved chances of gaining employment in his chosen field.

The outcome for this man is yet to be determined. It is hoped however, that BCA’s support will assist him in gaining his second visa.

If you are seeking advice on, or assistance with advocacy related to blindness or vision impairment issues, please contact BCA on 1800 033 660. Our advocacy team will be more than happy to help.


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Spread the Word About Inaccessible EFTPOS

Lauren Henley, Policy and Advocacy Manager


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Touch screen technology has now entered the retail industry, and it’s compromising the privacy, dignity and independence of people who are blind or vision impaired Australia-wide.

You may already have come across a touch screen EFTPOS terminal when trying to pay for a product in a shop or settle the bill at a restaurant. If not though, you’re bound to encounter one in your travels sometime soon.

These devices do not have a physical keypad with buttons like the older EFTPOS terminals we are used to using. Even though steps may have been taken to try to make these products accessible, their touch screen-only interface makes it difficult or impossible for most people who are blind or vision impaired to enter their PIN independently. This has resulted in many customers having to disclose their PIN to someone else just to be able to make a payment.

BCA is undertaking extensive advocacy on this issue at a policy level, but we need your help to get the message out to businesses in your local community. Here are five simple things you can do to help raise awareness of this issue:


1. Speak Up

Whenever you come across an EFTPOS terminal that has physical buttons, you might like to start a conversation with the customer service representative about how important this is. You could also consider asking to speak to the Manager to thank them for continuing to use a device with physical buttons, or phone the store back and do this later.


2. Give them a Postcard

Whenever you encounter an inaccessible touch screen device in your travels, you might like to provide the customer service representative with one of BCA’s EFTPOS accessibility postcards. Each postcard includes the BCA logo and contact details, as well as the tag line: “use touch screen EFTPOS devices, lose touch with your customers”.

The back of the postcard includes the following text:

“I want to pay you, but I can’t use your EFTPOS terminal because it does not have physical buttons. The touch screen design means that people who are blind or vision impaired like me cannot enter their PIN independently. I don’t want to share my PIN with you or anyone else – nor should I have to. Please give this card to your manager. Ask them to tell your bank to stop rolling out EFTPOS machines which can only be operated using touch screens and to give you a device with a keypad with buttons instead. This is the only legal and accessible way for a person who is blind or vision impaired to pay.”

Each postcard has a hole cut out of one corner to assist with orientation. When you are holding the postcard with the front facing towards you, the hole will be in the top left hand corner. If you are holding it with the back facing towards you, it will be in the right hand corner.

These postcards are available to you at no cost. All you have to do is contact BCA and ask for some to be sent to your nominated address. To assist with our work on this issue, we’d also really appreciate you getting in touch to let us know when and where you’ve used a postcard.


3. Get on the Air

You could contact your local community radio station and ask them to run a segment on the problems associated with inaccessible touch screen EFTPOS terminals. You could also find opportunities to raise this issue on talkback radio. If you aren’t quite sure what to say, you can obtain a one-page fact sheet from BCA which may help.


4. Make the Headlines

You could write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to help draw attention to the issues associated with inaccessible touch screen EFTPOS terminals. If you aren’t sure what to include in your letter, you can contact BCA for further information or advice.


5. Write to the Royal Commission

You may be aware that a Royal Commission is currently underway to inquire into instances of misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry. If you have encountered an inaccessible EFTPOS terminal or ATM, we encourage you to consider lodging a short submission with the royal Commission.

You can complete a submission form online. If you need assistance to complete the form or require the form in another format, you can contact the Commission by phone on 1800 909 826, or by email at For more information about how and what to submit, please visit our campaign page.


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Call to action: Lets shake things up with the Royal Commission


Inaccessible EFTPOS machines and ATMs continue to be rolled out across Australia, compromising the dignity, independence and privacy of many people who are blind or vision impaired. You may be aware that a Royal Commission is currently underway to inquire into instances of misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry. This provides us with a unique opportunity to draw attention to this very important issue.

We are asking people to consider lodging a short submission with the Royal Commission every time they encounter an inaccessible EFTPOS machine or ATM that impacts on their ability to access financial services. The squeakiest wheel gets the most attention and by following this call to action, you will be helping to demonstrate how many people are being negatively impacted by the roll out of inaccessible touchscreen devices.

The terms of reference for the Royal Commission state:

“All Australians have the right to be treated honestly and fairly in their dealings with banking, superannuation and financial service providers. The highest standards of conduct are critical to the good governance and corporate culture of those providers.

And these standards should continue to be complemented by strong regulatory and supervisory frameworks that ensure that all Australian consumers, including business, have confidence and trust in the financial system.”

Clauses B and F of the terms of reference hold the most relevance to the issues that are faced by people who are blind or vision impaired. These clauses require the Commission to investigate:

“B) whether any conduct, practices, behaviour or business activities by financial services entities fall below community standards and expectations.

F) the adequacy of forms of industry self-regulation, including industry codes of conduct; to identify, regulate and address misconduct in the relevant industry, to meet community standards and expectations and to provide appropriate redress to consumers”

The Commission’s preference for receiving submissions is via an online submissions form, but there are also other options available. The online form will ask you to:

  • Describe the misconduct of the relevant financial services entity
  • When this conduct occurred
  • Your views on what contributed to this misconduct, and
  • Any steps you have taken to complain about the conduct and the outcome of your complaint.

The form also enables you to provide the Royal Commission with other comments, including your views on what changes you would like them to recommend.

You can complete the online submission form here.

If you need assistance to complete the form or require the form in another format, you can contact the Commission by phone on 1800 909 826, or by email at

Thanks for reading, and please consider taking up this call to action to support the work we are doing at a national level. If we don’t speak out about this issue, no one else will.