Friday, August 04, 2006.
The aviation industry needs to make improvements to the way in which it assists disabled passengers, according to new Department for Transport (DfT) research.
A study carried out by the DfT's Research Laboratory found that, in some cases, airlines and airports had not necessarily complied with regulations designed to protect the interests of disabled travellers.
Aviation companies are required to adhere to 1995's Disability Discrimination Act and encouraged to follow a voluntary Code of Practice issued by the DfT in 2003 that gives guidelines on access to air travel for the disabled.
The latter sets out the minimum standards that should be set within the industry, but the latest research indicates that not enough is being done.
In a disabled passenger poll, many people suggested that airline staff "lacked disability awareness, especially in relation to hidden disabilities such as deafness".
Most airlines and airport operators claimed that staff had received training for disability awareness, but feedback from the poll suggested that "communication between staff and passengers could be improved further".
Disabled people also face a tougher time when it comes to booking their flights, the research found.
Under the Disability Discrimination Act, wherever airlines accept bookings over the phone, they should also be available via textphone. However, the research found that there is still "a lack of textphone services" within the industry.
As well as this, disabled passengers struggle with finding out exactly what the protocols for disabled travel are.
Most airlines provide details about travelling with a wheelchair, with British Airways' website noting that wheelchairs can be carried on board all planes except the Airbus A319 and the Jetstream 41.
However, when it comes to pre-flight information in alternative media such as large print or Braille, provision remains low.
The study concludes that various steps need to be taken in the aviation industry. More encouragement is needed for companies to follow the Code and travel agency and airline staff should be given more training for disability awareness.
Pre-booking assistance needs to be promoted further and the policies for carrying disabled people need to be made consistent across the industry.
"I welcome this research," said aviation minister Gillian Merron. "We want to see improved accessibility to all types of transport and it is important that we monitor the effectiveness of this Code of Practice so that disabled people can be confident of a positive experience when they travel by air."
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