A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., Monday, May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Transport agency asks for public input on air travel for people with disabilities

The agency said it was looking to remove further barriers to travel across provincial or national borders

Two separate federal agencies issued announcements Tuesday on life with a disability in Canada — one seeking greater input on hot-button issues and the other urging society at large to challenge its preconceptions.

Statements from the Canadian Transportation Agency and Statistics Canada differed in scope and content, but both touched on issues that disabled Canadians have long said lacked adequate attention.

The CTA announced it was launching the next phase of its consultations on accessibility issues, saying it was looking to remove further barriers to travel across provincial or national borders.

StatCan, meanwhile, issued a report suggesting Canadian society’s understanding of disability is at odds with the realities experienced by the majority of those identifying as disabled.

Both agencies noted that their announcements came on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations initiative that began on Dec. 3, 1992.

In its call for public submissions, the CTA identified a handful of specific and sometimes polarizing topics on which it is particularly keen to receive feedback.

Those include the possible expansion of a policy often known as “one person one fare,” a rule that waives fees for those travelling alongside specific types of wheelchair users under particular conditions.

The policy currently only applies to domestic travel aboard flights with Canada’s major airlines, but the CTA said it’s seeking feedback on the idea of expanding it to include international travel and the country’s smaller air carriers.

The agency also explicitly requested feedback on how — if at all — airlines should accommodate emotional support animals or service animals other than dogs. The public is also invited to weigh in on how to apply accessibility regulations to small transportation providers, with consultations open until Feb. 7, 2020.

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Shay Erlich, a hard-of-hearing, multiply disabled wheelchair user, said it’s high time for the “one person one fare” policy to be expanded.

The Toronto resident often travels with a business partner who also uses a wheelchair and is visually impaired, with the two acting as each other’s caregivers.

“We very frequently get challenged as each other’s support person,” Erlich said in a written interview. “People don’t expect that disabled people can be each other’s support person, and we frequently have to challenge the assumption that it is a way to scam the system.”

Erlich said the policy should be easier for disabled travellers to access, noting current rules require requests be made by phone — effectively shutting out those facing barriers to verbal communication.

Meanwhile in its report, titled “The Dynamics of Disability,” Statistics Canada focused on broader issues.

The report said that while most Canadians picture disabilities as static, stable conditions that do not change over time, the reality is very different for the majority of disabled Canadians. StatCan said 61 per cent of Canada’s 6.2 million disabled people over the age of 15 have a disability that fluctuates or evolves over time.

The report said societal attitudes and policies often do not reflect this fact.

“Simply the presence of an underlying health condition — in the absence of any other information — provides, at best, an incomplete picture of the actual experiences and challenges persons with disabilities may have in their day-to-day lives,” the report reads.

Constanza Farias, 27, said that lack of understanding affects all aspects of her life. Farias has been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder.

She said a traditional conception of disability sets up standards and expectations that people with fluctuating disabilities are at times unable to meet.

School officials and prospective employers, for instance, may be inclined to question or withhold accommodations based on the fact that a person’s presentation or needs shift over time.

Those expectations spill over to other realms as well, she said, citing doctors who struggled for years to diagnose her variable symptoms, as well as social situations in which her inability to predict her condition on a given day left her facing greater exclusion.

“It permeates absolutely every area of your life,” Farias said. “You’re kind of stuck in trying to fit into these boxes. The dynamic of having a disability that’s invisible and not very well understood means that you’re too disabled for certain things, and for others not disabled enough.”

READ MORE: Canada home to 6.5 million people with one or more disability

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


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