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Seminar on Disabled Passenger Handling 23 September 2003

A seminar took place on Wednesday 17th September at the airport to discuss the handling of Disabled Persons.

Thirty representatives from the airlines, airport, service contractors, DHSS, and groups who represent disabled persons were in attendance, and the seminar was chaired by Jim Hoskisson of the Island Disability Access Office. The seminar was called for and organised by Airport Director, Philip Pain, on behalf of the Department of Transport. The political Member with responsibility for the airport, Mr Ray Kniveton MLC, welcomed the attendees, and also gave the closing remarks.

The need for the seminar arose out of a new UK Department for Transport code of practice which was issued in March 2003, and is titled "Access to Air Travel for Disabled People". The introduction to the Code says:

It is aimed at all those involved in the UK air industry from travel agents and tour operators to airlines and those involved in the design of airports and aircraft. The purpose of the Code is to ensure that the whole industry is accessible, from booking (the) flight, to arriving at the airport, from accessing the terminal building, and the facilities within it to access to and on the aircraft itself. It sets out basic standards for accessibility, which we hope that the UK air travel industry will adopt and seek to exceed.

While the Code is voluntary, the (UK) Department for Transport will be monitoring the application of the Code and will reserve the right to make the Code statutory should it prove necessary.

During the seminar, the various representatives discussed the application of the Code to the Isle of Man Airport and the airlines which serve it, and this was done by 'following through the system' the progress of imaginary persons with a variety of disabilities including hearing impairment, visual impairment, and physical disability including wheelchair use. Real examples of problems encountered were also discussed and analysed, so that lessons could be applied.

The usefulness of the Seminar was greatly enhanced by the attendance of senior airline Managers from the UK, and they (and all the other attendees) will be conveying the results from the Seminar, back to their own companies and organisations over the next few days. The Seminar was therefore the first step in a process of improvement, involving a variety of organisations and companies. Everyone present agreed that it had been a most useful day, which helped confirm the basic soundness of the procedures and practices already in place, whilst also clarifying respective roles and responsibilities at every stage in the system.

Specific areas for improvement were identified, which include issuing more specific advice and guidance to prospective passengers before they book their flight; the provision of "help buttons" at various key points around the airport; provision of tactile signage where appropriate; improved dissemination of the information held in airline reservation systems; additional awareness training for all airline, airport, and contractor staff; additional training in assisting and moving disabled persons where full 'lift-ons' are required; and a full 'access audit' for the whole site.

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