Deaf, blind passenger says Comair humiliated him

2013-08-12 12:40
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Cape Town - A deaf and blind priest from the UK, who is a regular solo flyer, says he feels humiliated after Comair staff refused to let him board a domestic flight because he was flying alone.

The Cape Times reports Cyril Axelrod, a leading international advocate for deaf and blind people who is in Cape Town to develop a training and services programme with the Deaf Federation of South Africa, was prevented from speaking at a mass for the deaf in Johannesburg on Sunday after missing his flight.

Axelrod said he approached the Comair check-in counter at Cape Town International Airport on Saturday afternoon with a medical card that detailed his disabilities and confirmed he was able to fly alone. He was told by the flight’s captain that Comair policy would not allow him to fly unaccompanied.

Born deaf, he lost his sight to Usher syndrome in 1980.

Axelrod said he was “humiliated” by the experience and had not encountered such a problem before.

“I can’t believe how they treated me because I have been flying alone for 13 years. I’ve been flying all over the world and this is the first time this has happened.

“I always help staff to learn how to work with me. They’re always happy to communicate,

Axelrod said he was prepared to show them how to help him and communicate with him.

"They didn’t want to do anything to help me, they weren’t interested.”

Comair spokesperson Susan van der Ryst said, “For the safety of the customer as well as fellow customers and crew, Comair requires customers who are deaf as well as blind to be escorted by a qualified person who can communicate with the customer in case of an emergency."

She said Axelrod had been made aware of this provision but had refused to pay for a trained assistant at the cost of another ticket. She said Comair would refund his ticket.

To communicate, Axelrod requires words to be spelt out on his palm and fingers with tapping and brushing gestures. He responds vocally. People who don’t know this system are able to communicate with him by tracing letters on his hand.

According to the United States Department of Transport rule for non-discrimination on the basis of disability, ascribed to by airlines including South African Airways and British Airways, “airlines must train employees with respect to awareness and appropriate responses to passengers with a disability, including persons with physical, sensory, mental, and emotional disabilities, including how to distinguish among the differing abilities of individuals with a disability.

"Airlines must also train these employees to recognize requests for communication accommodation from individuals whose hearing or vision is impaired and to use the most common methods for communicating with these individuals that are readily available, such as writing notes or taking care to enunciate clearly, for example. Training in sign language is not required.

Airlines must also train these employees to recognize requests for communication accommodation from deaf-blind passengers and to use established means of communicating with these passengers when they are available, such as passing out Braille cards if you have them, reading an information sheet that a passenger provides, or communicating with a passenger through an interpreter, for example.”  A full copy of the rules are available here

“I felt terrible because I feel they didn’t treat me as a human person. I felt humiliated,” said Axelrod who is still deciding whether to press charges. In November South African-born Axelrod is also due to become the first deaf and blind person to receive the Order of the British Empire for his international efforts to support deaf and blind people.

News24 Travel has contacted the Deaf Federation of South Africa and is awaiting their response on the matter.

Read more on:    cape town  |  johannesburg  |  travel  |  travel south africa

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