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Undignified air travel for people with disabilities beyond unacceptable says Greens Senator Steele-John, as online petition gains traction

(Noah Callan’s at his home on May 28, 2020. Callan’s online petition has gathered more than 22,000 signatures. Photo by Oliver Lees)

The quality of air travel is “beyond unacceptable” for people with disabilities, Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John said yesterday, calling for an end to discriminatory airline practices. 

After throwing his support behind an online petition with more than 22,000 signatures, Mr Steele-John said the popular Change.org petition represented a serious injustice that is commonplace for people with disabilities.  

“I have experienced this myself many, many times over, airlines need to recognise they are the barrier in this situation and need to change both their attitudes and their policies,” he said.

“Accessibility is a right – it is up to the airlines to ensure that the service they offer is inclusive of everyone.”

The creator of the petition, 23-year-old Noah Callan, has lived with quadriplegia cerebral palsy his entire life and described his experience of air travel as “undignified and unsafe”.

In 2019 Callan planned on travelling to Tasmania to spend Christmas with his family, but had to cancel his plans after no airline could take his electric wheelchair, which he needs to support his body. 

“It’s not fair, because I should have the right to travel just like everyone else,” he said.

iScream Travel founder Michelle Massey has worked as a disability travel advocate for more than 20 years, and has always advised her clients not to travel on low-cost airlines. 

“There are some that are terrible, they will not accommodate accessible travel at all,” Massey said.  

“People with disabilities have already been through enough trauma, the last thing they need is more anxiety just to have a common experience we all enjoy.”

The Disability Discrimination Act outlines that people with disabilities have an equal right to access public places, including airplanes. 

In response to the petition directed at Australia’s major domestic airlines, a Jetstar spokesman said the airline was committed to providing a safe and affordable travel experience for customers. 

And a spokesman for Virgin Airlines said they work closely with passengers to provide a dignified service to those with disabilities.  

But in order for standards to improve for people with disabilities, Senator Steele-John said the government must also step up to fix this “failure of regulation”. 

“There is a lack of will on behalf of both governments and airlines to enshrine the rights of disabled people to equally access air travel.”

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