Parliament: Require all airports to carry out 'invisible disability' awareness training.

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Major airports in the UK are failing in their duty to be accessible to disabled customers. A lack of  facilities and awareness amongst staff on how to support disabled travelers are causing problems including: Disabled people being humiliated, refused ramps, left on planes, having mobility equipment lost and damaged and being separated from carers. The Civil Aviation Authority have agreed that UK airports do not have adequate training or facilities to appropriately assist disabled travelers and yet still the government has yet to do anything to enforce real change.

In January of this year I was left frightened and humiliated by Stansted airport after trying to board a plane. Flying is stressful at the best of times but navigating the airport as a disabled person is being made by more difficult and often impossible by a widespread lack of awareness by airport staff in the UK. Despite making millions of pounds airports are letting down both staff and passengers by not appropriately training staff on how to help disabled flyers.

Suffering from a connective tissue disorder means I may look like a “healthy” person, but I am unable to carry out many day-to-day tasks without support. My condition causes widespread chronic pain and chronic fatigue, and I due the fragility of my internal organs I am not allowed to lift any heavy objects, as this causes ruptures which can be fatal, the faulty tissue in my heart means I pass out up to 10 times a day and cannot stand still for more than a few minutes without going into tachycardia. I take 13 tablets a day in order to be able to stand up and will be in physiotherapy for the rest of my life. My vision, balance coordination are all affected. And I do not have full control of my bowel or bladder. I also suffer with anxiety and am on the autistic spectrum.

After requesting ‘special assistance’ (the dubious name given to disability support at airports) months in advance I was left at the airport without any of the help I had asked for and told that only disabled people are allowed help. Despite being legally disabled since 2013, I was judged solely on the way that I look. Airports are legally required to be accessible to everyone, however the experience of myself and of many others is an environment of hostility and inaccessibility.

After taking about my experience with the media I received almost one hundred messages from other disabled travellers, who shared their own airport horror stories and to my distress I discovered that my case was not an isolated incident, disabled people are being let down by every major airport in the UK.

As a frequent  traveller I have never experienced the kind of decimation that I regularly experience in the UK by any foreign airport and it shocks me that the UK as a society are so far behind when it comes to disability rights, in particular for people with Invisible disabilities.

I ask the government on behalf on everyone in this country who has been discriminated against at the airport, please:

·         Require all airports in the UK to carry out disability awareness training to all customer facing staff. This should have to include awareness of invisible disabilities. This should be made a legal requirement via a change in the current law.

·         Require airports to change the name from ‘Special Assistance’ to ‘Disability and Mobility Support’ to make it clear what this service is. We are not asking for any special treatment just the same access as able-bodied passenger. I believe that the name 'special assistance' perpetuates the idea that people fake illnesses in order the get special treatment at the airport. Furthermore the word ''special" has a long history of being condescending to disabled people.

·         Require all airports to adopt the approach of Southend Airport and offer customers with invisible disabilities lanyards to prevent confusion and judgement from staff.

Thank you,

Natalie Allport-Grantham