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Friday, 03 June 2016 22:14

Molly Addressing Accessibility with British Airways

Written by  Molly Watt
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My outward journey to Las Vegas was nowhere near the way it should have been.

The necessary call to ‘special assistance’ had been made by my mum prior to the trip and my specific accessibility needs spelt out then, again at check in and still sadly the necessary provision was not in place.

Whilst my condition is rare my accessibility needs are not overly out of the ordinary:  

I personally need safety instructions I can read, so large print and a one to one, maximum 5/10 minutes explanation as to where I can find the emergency exits, toilets and assistance button.  In addition to this I would need a menu with large print.

From a safety and comfort prospectus it would be preferable to be seated in a bulkhead seat for several reasons.  firstly toilets tend to be near bulkhead seats, secondly I am quite clumsy not being able to see or hear properly I then have a little more personal space and therefore less likely to knock into or irritate other passengers and thirdly if I am travelling with my guide dog she needs that extra space.

As a result of the unacceptable lack of provision and discussion with one of the onboard staff I was assured my return flight would be stress free and that I should not worry.

My experiences widely publicised on social media again I was assured my return flight would be better!

Once again at checkin I checked my disability was recorded in the booking which was confirmed and I was asked if I needed assistance, calling for a wheelchair!  

This awful stereotyping and assumption that all people with a disability need a wheelchair really needs to change.

Naturally I did not use the provided wheelchair but did take up the assistance in getting through customs relatively stress free.

I boarded the aircraft with my cane in hand and was shown to my seat and that was that. 

No accessible safety instructions or anything else, in fact worse as the entertainment system was not working so the staff did a manual briefing of the safety instructions.  I am fortunate to have the very best in hearing aid technology however, I could not hear the verbal instructions very well and certainly couldn’t see the staff member doing his demonstration.  What I did hear was things like ‘Your nearest exit can be found here and here’ well, where is here? not useful at all to somebody who is deafblind or blind - this is certainly something that needs to be addressed.  Everybody needs full access to safety instructions.

Again the staff member spoken to was shocked and surprised that according to her ‘iPad’ I was not noted as having a disability at all and she showed me her iPad. It occurred to me then, why not have an iPad available to people like myself with the safety instructions on it, then each individual could then adjust text to their personal needs, simple! 

Evidently any person travelling with a disability should have a small sign beside their name indicating such - strange as ground staff had confirmed it was on the booking at checkin.  At this stage I was informed BA could only identify me as either deaf or blind not deafblind as their system would not allow it - SPEECHLESS, clearly my needs could never have been considered appropriately with this system.

Needless to say my experience with BA had not been a good one and I am sad to say exactly the same happened to me on a flight to Hong Kong in 2012, back then I was assured the system would change!

I travel a great deal as do many with my condition and the service I endured was not acceptable and as a result I have publicised my experience in the hope BA will consider the deafblind and look to address the unacceptable treatment I endured.

I am absolutely delighted to say today I received notification from BA that as a result of my experiences the following has happened:

BA’s Customer Services have conversed with their both Policy Manager and Facilitation Manager and as a result their system will now allow both deaf and blind indicators on their bookings, sadly not deafblind as their system won’t allow it at this time, hopefully this will come, but this is certainly far better than previously at least now cabin crew will know when a passenger has more specific accessibility issues.

I am oral however some with my condition (Usher Syndrome) may need safety instructions in braille, some might use sign language.  

I think it would be prudent of airlines to consider communication needs also.

 I’m told it is now possible to select both deaf and blind when booking too which is great news as many deafblind are unable to use a telephone to advise of their needs.

Of course this hasn't made my experience any better but it has given me faith that I have been listened to and that BA have immediately looked to improve their service for all deafblind travellers and of that I am eternally grateful. 

So, again thank you to social media for enabling me to get my message across to British Airways and to British Airways for listening and acting.

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