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.

Letter to the Editor

 

Listen to the audio

Editor’s Note

In my call for contributions, I noted my particular interest in a few subjects, one of which was travel. This letter, from a vision impaired man, contains some great tips and observations drawn from his personal experience.

***

Dear Editor,

Travel is one of the biggest challenges I personally face as someone who has been living independently for almost three years. Due to the fact I don’t drive and have poor vision, various aspects of travel are indeed harder for me.

  • Getting to the city: Due to the fact I don’t live right near a train station, I must first walk to a bus stop, take the bus to the station and then take the train to the city. This takes around 90 minutes each way which indeed eats up a lot of time in my day when I work from the office. The biggest challenge here is the frequency of bus services. Fortunately, I have the ability to work from home most of the time which helps tremendously.
  • Shopping: I’m very lucky that my family assists me with getting to shops or bringing me items that I need whether it be household amenities or food. However, I’m also lucky that I have a Woolworths store nearby that I can walk to in 15 minutes.
  • Getting to other destinations: This is where it gets tricky. Clearly, some destinations are impossible to get to via public transport, but many are possible as long as you have plenty of time on your hands and have a navigation system handy when you arrive.
  • Travelling interstate: I occasionally travel to Sydney for work and generally have found it relatively easy to find my way around the airport to my gate. However, the screens containing the gate numbers from different flights are a challenge to read. I often either take a photo of the screen with my phone and then zoom into the photo, or (assuming the itinerary is in my Gmail inbox) I use the Google Now app, which lists the gate of my flight on my phone.

Some more general observations:

  • Traffic lights which don’t make a sound are one of the biggest problems for anyone with a vision impairment when crossing the street, particularly on a bright day, or when the road is wide and it’s hard to see the little man on the other side.
  • Microsoft’s Bing Maps provides significantly better information about available public transport for a destination than Google Maps, so it’s definitely worth trying out if you’re planning to go somewhere new.
  • In general, Google Maps is helpful when finding my way to a new destination. Occasionally when walking and surrounded by buildings, Google Maps seems to lose its accuracy which can make life a little challenging.
  • Buses and Trams are (for me) the most difficult form of transport to use. Their destination signs can sometimes be unclear, they don’t announce stops and one must either be very familiar with the route taken in advance or use a navigation app to determine the best place to stop. I choose to walk instead of taking such transport if possible, although this is rarely practical.
  • Uber is a significantly better service than Taxis in general, but it is also beneficial to those of us with a vision impairment. Uber allows me to contact my driver and explain exactly where I am. It also allows me to see the exact location of my car, and gives me some detail of what type of car will be arriving. I really hope that we see half price Uber rides in the future (similar to the Taxi program available) as their service offers true benefits to those of us who are vision impaired.

Cheers,

Fotis

***

Thank you, Fotis, for your great and well-written advice, which I’m certain many readers will find extremely useful. Your letter highlights the ways in which technology has revolutionized travel for the vision impaired. But you also offer necessary reminders of areas which still need improvement.

In particular, I was struck by the way in which Uber’s customer experience includes features which could have been easily implemented by Taxi services, and which have measurable practical impacts on the safety and comfort of customers who are blind or vision impaired. It’s frustrating that in many cases, only competition will force these companies to introduce such features.

We would love to hear about your travel tips and experiences, whether it’s getting to work every day, or travelling interstate or internationally. Tell us which apps work best for you, how you tackle finding a difficult destination, and where you’ve run into trouble.

Write us a contribution (see submission guidelines), or get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Next article

Back to BC News main page

Previous article