Helping disabled travellers is a basic responsibility

Straits Times Forum, 22 September 2014 (print edition)

CHANGI Airport has a place in most travellers’ hearts because of its excellent service and facilities.

Yet after reading Dr Ho Ting Fei’s letter (“Airport wheelchair rules leave much to be desired“; last Wednesday), the Disabled People’s Association (DPA) would like to highlight that offering assistance to those with special needs should be viewed as fulfilling a basic responsibility and not as an extended service.

Tourists with special needs are first and foremost customers and should be given the same level of service as any other paying member of the public. Indeed, sometimes these passengers pay more than other travellers to fly.

Changi Airport’s website has information about the special needs services it provides, which include complimentary access to wheelchairs on a first-come, first-served basis. Passengers are also informed that they can request a wheelchair and a minder directly from the airlines.

Yet, such policies do not always filter down to the service providers on the ground. For a person with a disability, getting about is not always easy and anything that airport staff can do to alleviate the concerns of passengers and their friends and family would be a great help.

It is important that the airport management ensure that all staff are properly trained to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities and are aware of the relevant policies to avoid confusion and anxiety.

The DPA encourages Changi Airport to expand its disability services, especially in the light of Singapore ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

An example of best practice can be found in South Korea, where airports provide comprehensive services for visitors with disabilities. These services include priority check-in, assistance with check-in and with filling out documents, electric carts for passengers with mobility difficulties and in-flight assistance.

Another good example of best practice can be seen at Pittsburgh International Airport, in the United States, where it has volunteer airport ambassadors who offer friendly assistance to visitors, including special needs support.

Although every country is unique, it is good practice to look at adapting tried and tested policies to the local context. Changi Airport management should look at properly implementing existing policies as well as enhancing them to ensure that Changi is as great an experience for travellers without disabilities as it is for those with them.

Pottokkaren Kochuvareed Asha
Advocacy Consultant
Disabled People’s Association

Changi Airport Group has responded here.

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