Less talk, more action: Advocates critical of feds’ update on disability air services

Click to play video: 'Woman stuck in Tel Aviv after wheelchair damaged in Air Canada mishap'
Woman stuck in Tel Aviv after wheelchair damaged in Air Canada mishap
WATCH: Woman stuck in Tel Aviv after wheelchair damaged in Air Canada mishap – Sep 9, 2022

Advocates say the Canadian government needs to talk less and act more on addressing shortcomings in accommodating those with disabilities on air flights and in airports.

Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra met with the National Airlines Council of Canada to discuss the issues, according to a statement released Thursday.

Qualtrough said the council has committed to focusing on disability and inclusion training and to improving the transportation and care of mobility devices.

She also said that the federal government will “enhance regulations” to improve services, as well as host a Summit on Disability Inclusive Air Travel, which she said will include Canadian airlines and airport authorities.

“More must be done to ensure that persons with disabilities can access equitable and dignified services and no longer face barriers when travelling in Canada,” she said in the statement.

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Click to play video: 'Disability rights advocates challenge new air travel rules'
Disability rights advocates challenge new air travel rules

“We are disappointed at the unacceptable treatment that some persons with disabilities have received while travelling. Passengers have rights when they travel. They must be treated with respect and dignity throughout their journey, full stop.”

However, air rights advocates say the update from the government is all talk and little action.

“I dread entering Canadian airspace,” said David Lepofsky, who is blind and the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, in an interview with Global News. “When you arrive here, you have no idea whether it’s going to be a bad day, or a good day or a horrible day.”

He said that it is great the Canadian government is acknowledging the issues but that those issues have existed for decades and little has been done.

Lepofsky described how accessibility at Canadian airports has gotten worse over the years. For example, he said Toronto’s Pearson Airport used to have a booth near the entrance to help those with disabilities, but it was removed during the COVID-19 pandemic and not replaced.

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In September, Global News reported that a wheelchair was damaged during an Air Canada flight.

Lepofsky said the recent government statement illustrates how “things are getting worse.”

“These grand statements by ministers that in some future date, they’re going to have regulations,” he said. “Talk about promising nothing but making it sound like something.”

He said that reported problems are just the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents aren’t reported. It doesn’t have to be this way though, Lepofsky said, adding that he has had much better experiences with airlines in other countries, such as New Zealand and Israel.

In a statement, Air Passenger Rights founder Gabor Lukacs told Global News that the announced measures don’t go far enough.

“More actions, less talk and tokenism would be needed,” he said.

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