‘It’s Time For Security at Airports to Respond to The Disabled with Empathy’

The incident directly challenged my dignity as a person with a disability.

On the evening of 31 January, I had a flight from Kolkata to New Delhi. During the security clearance at the Kolkata airport, the officer asked me to stand up and walk two steps. On account of a disability by birth, it was not possible for me. I conveyed the same to the officer. 

Once inside the kiosk, the female officer insisted that I stand up. I told her, I can’t. She then said, “Sirf, 2 minute khade ho jao.” Feeling frustrated, I almost raised my voice, stating that I could not walk or stand up. Then she asked me what had happened, and I had to unwillingly explain my disability to her. This was the first time something like this had happened to me at an airport.

I eventually proceeded through the security screening. However, the entire incident left me traumatised and distraught. It also directly challenged my dignity as a person with a disability.

This incident has again raised several questions about the screening procedures for People with Disability (PwD) at the airport and a general lack of empathy.

This could have been avoided by the application of reasonable classification.
At present, airport authorities or security personnel cannot determine whether a passenger using a wheelchair has a disability or some other medical reason.
If this classification is indicated on the passengers’ boarding passes using wheelchairs, incidents like these maybe could be averted.  

Though this is one part of the solution, it does not take away from the fact that the security personnel at the airports need to be trained to be sensitive and empathetic with passengers with disabilities.

Lodged a Complaint on the Portal But No Response

I registered a complaint following the established protocol with the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). However, I have yet to receive a response; it’s been more than 2 weeks.

While grievance redressal mechanisms are a crucial aspect of the process, the agency must also guarantee that each complaint is resolved adequately.

Such an approach would restore the public’s faith in the institutions and agencies, such as the CISF.

‘There’s Diversity In Disability’

The introduction of disability within the stratum of diversity is an issue that has been discussed, debated and acknowledged all over the world. The strengthening of systems of diversity is mainly geared towards the inclusion of different groups of people in communities and organisational settings. 

“There is diversity in disability as well, which is a less recognised fact. The heterogeneity in disability is indisputable. Being on the margins, the community constitutes physical, mental, chronic, and invisible disabilities among many others. Moreover, like everyone else, PwDs come with their own strengths and limitations which vary for different individuals.”

For the PwDs to thrive and excel, their perspectives and experiences must be held to foster access to the ecosystem. Offering reasonable accommodation to PwDs is a necessary step to enable their inclusion and equality in the society. 

‘We Need To Ensure Equality With Disability’

In the given scheme of things, the doctrine of ‘Reasonable Classification’ becomes conducive to ensuring equality with disability. While reasonable classification traces its roots to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, it is also in many ways analogous to reasonable accommodation. 

In simple terms, the doctrine of reasonable classification implies that all individuals are different from one another. Therefore, the State must classify and give special treatment to some sections of the society in the interest of fairness and justice.  

In 2014, the Bureau of Civil Aviation issued guidelines for screening passengers with special needs and medical conditions. Establishing training modules that are commensurate with the 2014 guidelines would be fundamental in this regard to secure the dignity of PwDs.

The lack of understanding and sensitivity towards disability in public spaces undermines the dignity and autonomy of individuals with disabilities and perpetuates a sense of indifference, despite countless governmental orders; constitutional mandates, and supreme court judgements, and not to forget the years-long advocacy efforts to promote disability rights and inclusivity. 
‘The Landmark Judgements’
In the landmark judgment of Jeeja Ghosh v. UOI, the Supreme Court traced the right to dignity of people with disabilities to Article 21 of the Constitution. The court held that there should be a full recognition of the fact that people with disabilities are an integral part of the community, equal in dignity and entitled to enjoy the same rights and freedoms like others.
Similarly, in the case of Net Ram Yadav v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court stated that ‘respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity lies at the core of the dignity of persons with disability.’ 

Understanding the nuanced nature of disability and its intersection with other aspects of diversity is imperative in building truly inclusive and equitable societies.

This requires a concerted effort to challenge stereotypes, educate the public about the experiences and contributions of individuals with disabilities, and advocate for policies that uphold the rights and well-being of people with disabilities. 

The fight for accessible, inclusive and barrier-free spaces remains at the core of defending the rights of the PwDs. Building allies in the mainstream community, through sensitivity pieces of training and mutual intent fostering diversity, makes that battle easier. To that extent, proper implementation of regulations will go a mile in reducing discrimination against the PwDs.

(The author is a public policy professional.)
(The Quint has reached out to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) on the above incident involving Arushi Singh. Their response is awaited. The story would be updated once a response is received.)
(All ‘My Report’ branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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