All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak

All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak
All abilities trek to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko - Australia's highest peak - © Jennifer Johnson 2008

Friday, March 29, 2013

United States Transport Security Administration Assistance for People with Disability


Following on from a previous blog discussion on Air Travel and Disability that outlined the European Union initiatives on customer service for travellers with disabilities in airports, we find a similar initiative in the US. The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) has recently announced enhancements to its support for travellers with disability and those with medical conditions. The program is an extension of their TSA Cares Program, as shown in the Photo 1, provides a dedicated number for travellers with disability or medical conditions to improve customer service provision across US airports and airlines. However, the new initiatives go a lot further than this and include "Passengers with special circumstances may include travelers with disabilities or medical conditionsWounded Warriors, passengers who wear specific religious clothing or head coverings and passengers struggling with understanding checkpoint procedures" (TSA, 2013). The separate program recognising Wounded Warriors expedites veterans with disability and medical conditions through the travel process (TSA, 2013).

TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227.
Photo 1: TSA Cares graphic (Source: http://www.tsa.gov/ 2013)

Information released from TSA on 6 March 2013 about the Passenger Support Specialists Program (PSS) included (TSA, 2013):
  • "Passenger Support Specialists are Transportation Security Officers, Lead TSOs and Supervisors who, in addition to their regular checkpoint duties, have volunteered to take on the collateral responsibility of assisting passengers who may be in need of assistance.
  • A traveler who needs assistance or is concerned about his or her screening can ask a checkpoint officer or supervisor for a Passenger Support Specialist at the respective checkpoint. Or, if TSA personnel recognize someone is having difficulty, a PSS could be called to ask whether assistance is needed.
  • TSA still encourages travelers with disabilities and medical conditions to contact TSA Cares before they fly. At some airports, Passenger Support Specialists will also complement the TSA Cares program.
  • In the course of assisting a passenger, the PSS will adhere to all of TSA's Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). While customer service will be emphasized, security is our primary mission and will not be compromised.
  • While all Transportation Security Officers receive training on how to screen individuals with disabilities and medical conditions, PSSs receive enhanced training directly from subject matter experts in the field of disability and from individuals with disabilities themselves.
  • PSSs receive approximately four hours of additional training, including two hours from the TSA Disability Branch, focused specifically on travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. This training includes additional instruction on civil rights for individuals with disabilities and medical conditions, and strategies for providing assistance with dignity and respect.
  • Members of TSA's disability coalition helped to develop, and participated in, the training of our PSS volunteers to ensure that our specialists are learning directly from the community they will be assisting.
  • TSA is committed to having a Passenger Support Specialist available during all screening checkpoint operating hours. If a traveler believes he or she may need to request the assistance of a Passenger Support Specialist, he or she is encouraged to arrive at the airport early and immediately ask an officer or a supervisor for a PSS". 
The European Union and the US have taken the lead on such initiatives and we can only hope that Australasian, Asian, African, Latin American and other nations can also be so strategic in their approaches to supporting people with disability and those with medical conditions when travelling. It is this type of customer service initiative that will start to breach the significant gap between the experiences of people with disability and the general public in not only transportation related matters but across accessible tourism experiences. These initiatives are what are required by the tourism industry more generally to address the requirements of the United Nations' (2006; 2008) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Articles 9 and 30, which specifically identified transport and tourism*. 

Note *: see previous post on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

References

Transportation Security Administration. (2013). About transportation security administration  Retrieved 29 March, 2013, from http://www.tsa.gov/about-tsa 
United Nations. (2006). Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. New York http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/convtexte.htm: United Nations General Assembly A/61/611 - 6 December 2006.
United Nations. (2008, 3 May). Landmark un treaty on rights of persons with disabilities enters into force  Retrieved 12 May, 2008, from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26554&Cr=disab&Cr1=

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Landmark Federal Court Case Places Coach Operators in Australia On Notice For People with Mobility Disabilities



A recent Federal Court action has placed the Australian bus and coach operators on notice that long or short haul routes must have access for people with mobility disability. The action by Julia Haraksin against Murrays Australia Ltd played out over its three-year battle in the court system. Her perseverance is to be noted and congratulated. However, the case once again highlights the weakness of the system that places the onus of proof of disability discrimination on individuals with disability. Having a case heard in the Federal Court is a significant personal financial risk to the individual as the Federal Court is a "cost jurisdiction" where even if you win you may still have some costs awarded against you. While this does not occur very often, and that there are opportunities to have cost limits placed on what an individual may risk, this system is unnecessarily biased towards organisations with the financial resources to be able to ignore the mediation processes through the complaint case mechanisms set up under the Disability Discrimination Act and force people to either risk their personal assets or walk away from many situations that are blatantly direct discrimination under the law. Of course, that is not even take into account the emotional energy and sacrifice that individuals make in taking a Federal Court action. What makes this case more frustrating is that the right to access public transport and generally was tested in three separate court actions in three states of Australia in the lead up to the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games (Darcy, 2003). Why did this Federal court action need to go ahead? Figure 1 shows the author boarding an accessible coach in Victoria in 1998, hardly revolutionary for some bus and coach companies.

Figure 1: Simon Darcy preparing to board an accessible coach in Melbourne, Victoria Australia in 1998


While the organisation that assisted Julia, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre are to be congratulated for their many efforts and success, it is time that we have a vision for the system to either place the onus on organisations to prove that they are not discriminating against people with disability or have a sufficiently funded government statutory authority or non-profit sector to take public interest cases on behalf of people with disability. As Darcy & Taylor (2009) highlight in their paper at on a human rights analysis of the leisure, sport, recreation, the arts and tourism sectors described under the UN Convention On the Rights of Person's With Disabilities as "cultural life" under Article 30, there are the more examples of serial complaint cases being undertaken by individuals with disabilities involving the same circumstances and sectors year in year out. One such area is hotel accommodation that has proved problematic with possibly hundreds of complaint cases being launched without any systematic change by the hotel and accommodation sector. Yet, the hotel accommodation sector had been lobbying at the federal level to have the proportion/number of accessible rooms reduced in new developments. Darcy (2010; 2011) outlines the significant issues that people with disability face trying to source and make an informed decision about the hotel accommodation for their needs. Will this be the next Federal court case?

For further information on the Haraksin v Murray Australia Ltd please see http://www.piac.asn.au/news/2013/03/are-bus-companies-meeting-disability-standards 

References
  1. Darcy, S. (2003). The politics of disability and access: The Sydney 2000 Games experience. Disability & Society, 18(6), 737-757.
  2. Darcy, S., & Taylor, T. (2009). Disability citizenship: An Australian human rights analysis of the cultural industries. Leisure Studies, 28(4), 419-441.
  3. Darcy, S. (2010). Inherent complexity: Disability, accessible tourism and accommodation information preferences. Tourism Management, 31(6), 816-826.
  4. Darcy, S. (2011). Developing sustainable approaches to accessible accommodation information provision: A foundation for strategic knowledge management. Tourism Recreation Research, 36(2), 141-157.
A media release about the case http://ymlp.com/zx0FiH 

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