Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
A Grassroots Disability Call for Overdue Federal Action to Tear Down the Many Disability Barriers Facing Air Travel Passengers with Disabilities in Canada – Federal Ministers’ Positive Statements that Reform is Needed Are Not Enough
September 30, 2022
There has been an impressive flurry of media coverage in Canada and in Israel on Air Canada’s irreparable damaging of the expensive powered wheelchair of Ontario disability accessibility advocate Maayan Ziv. Canada’s Disabilities Minister and Transport Minister have condemned Air Canada’s treatment of Maayan Ziv, and have promised to take action. But so far, we have seen no Government commitment to the concrete changes that air travel passengers with disabilities desperately need. The AODA Alliance here releases a public statement on the scope of this problem, and the corrective action we need.
Below you will find:
- A public statement by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the broader ordeal facing airline passengers with disabilities in Canada, and the reforms we need. Read why he, a proud Canadian, dreads each time his flight enters Canadian airspace.
- The September 11, 2022 tweet by federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough, including a joint statement by herself and by the federal Transport Minister.
- The September 11, 2022 Facebook post by federal Disabilities Minister.
- The September 21, 2022 article in the Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal, which quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on this issue.
- The CBC News September 17, 2022 report which quotes federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough.
- The September 11, 2022 report by Crew Insider, which appears to be a publication aimed at airline crews. It quotes the federal Transport Minister.
Statement on Recurring Cruel Canadian Air Travel Disability Barriers by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky
The latest horrific ordeal that Maayan Ziv faced on a September 8, 2022 Air Canada flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv is nothing new. It is the tip of an ugly massive iceberg of poor, inconsistent and unreliable service by Canadian airlines for passengers with disabilities, and ineffective federal regulation of the airline industry. The media has reached out to us several times since this incident and well before it, for comment on this well-known, recurring problem. I offer reflections.
Maayan Ziv’s September 8, 2022 Air Canada Toronto Tel Aviv Flight
By coincidence, I took the same Air Canada flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv on September 10, 2022, just two days after Maayan Ziv’s flight. The night before my flight, on September 9, 2022, I had been quoted in a prominent report about Maayan Ziv’s ordeal on the 11pm CBC TV news broadcast in Toronto.
Air Canada should have immediately issued a broad alert to its employees about this ordeal, both in an effort to find out what had happened, and to help ensure that it never happened again. Yet, when I was boarding my flight, and later when I landed in Israel, I chatted about it with Air Canada staff members who were helping board the flight in Toronto and who were on the flight. None had heard about what happened to Maayan Ziv just two days earlier. None were aware that there had been a prominent news report about this ordeal on CBC’s nightly Toronto newscast the prior night. This certainly suggests that Air Canada must not have notified its front-line employees involved with the same flight, about what had just happened, so that they could be vigilant to help ensure it did not happen again.
I asked Air Canada staff, working at the Toronto departure lounge for this flight, how exactly a wheelchair gets dealt with on a flight. I was told that when a passenger gets out of their wheelchair at the departure lounge in the Toronto airport, Air Canada baggage handlers come to fetch it. They take it down to load it on the plane. It is not supposed to go in the same compartment as does all the regular luggage. It is supposed to go in a separate compartment on the airplane for fragile luggage.
I hope that Air Canada and/or the Toronto Pearson Airport has video cameras that monitor the areas where Air Canada baggage handlers are handling a wheelchair and loading it on the airplane. If so, as a matter of basic public accountability, the Canada Transportation Agency should already have demanded that Air Canada hand over that video footage. It should also be made public. It could go a long way to ascertain how Maayan Ziv’s wheelchair got irreparably damaged. It could well also show whether any Air Canada or Pearson Airport officials were in a position to see the wheelchair mishandled.
In their public statements about this event by the federal Disabilities Minister and Transport Minister, the need for public accountability has been emphasized. This would be an important first step.
The Bigger Picture
I have travelled by air many times within Canada and to a good number of other countries. Sadly, even though I am a proud Canadian, I always dread when the aircraft on which I am travelling enters Canadian airspace. I know that the quality of disability-related services I will encounter when I land are highly-unpredictable.
As a blind traveller, when I travel alone, I need an airline ground staff member to guide me from the airplane through the airport, to clear Canadian Customs if needed, to get my luggage, and to find a taxi. These are routine services that airports around the world have reliably offered for decades.
In Canada, I have had competent service at times, and completely incompetent services at other times. I never know what to expect. My recent trip to Israel was no exception. In contrast, the service I got in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport was far better, as it regularly is.
Fortunately, the worst service I have received in Canada has never caused the enormity of damage that Maayan Ziv suffered when her expensive, custom-built powered wheelchair was irreparably damaged. However, time and again, I have been guided by airline staff who obviously do not know how to properly guide a blind person. This is not rocket science. I, like so many other blind people, have trained many a person how to properly guide us. It takes a few moments to learn, and is not complicated. For Air Canada, it’s their job!
Even worse, particularly at Toronto Pearson Airport Terminal 1, I have repeatedly had the experience of passengers with disabilities being treated like cattle, not human beings deserving of respect. My September 22, 2022 flight home from Israel was typical.
In most airports around the world where I have travelled, big or small, one staff person is assigned to guide me through the entire process, from beginning to end. At Pearson Airport Terminal 1, we are passed like a baton from one ground assistance person to another, at times having one person guide me partway, and then being handed off to another for another part of the journey, and at times, being passed on to a third. If one knows how to guide a blind person, the next may well not.
When this baton relay race treatment happens, Air Canada does not consistently ensure that a person is available at the hand-off point. We can be left sitting for an unpredictable amount of time along the route, with no staff on hand to tell us how long we must wait. I have heard passengers with disabilities, stressed and worried, pleading that they need to go to the washroom, with no one on hand to assist. I myself faced that very uncomfortable predicament when I arrived at Pearson Airport on September 22, 2022. I feel for those passengers I have had sitting near me at one of these way stations, crying out in a foreign language, obviously upset and confused, with no idea what is going on. People with disabilities deserve better.
In other airports, when I am going through security en route to boarding a flight, I have had the same ground assistance staff member go through the security screening with me. This enables them to help me ensure that I get all my baggage and personal affects back after they go through the security scanners. At Pearson Terminal 1, I have to endure having a different person guide me after going through the security screening than I had before I went through the screening. Thus, the staff person with me cannot themselves know whether I have inadvertently been given the wrong items after they go through the scanner. This is a stressful ordeal to have to undergo, amidst crowds trying to get through to their flights.
I feel sympathy for the Air Canada ground assistance staff members. They did not design this system. Moreover, I have heard time and again that Air Canada does not deploy enough of them to meet the needs of their passengers, putting Air Canada staff also under a great deal of stress. I hear it in their voices. This however does not excuse us from being left stranded partway through the airport, with no idea how long we must wait, and with no authorized official present to manage the process, answer our questions, or even help us find a bathroom. I should not have to undergo the indignity I faced on September 22, 2022 at Pearson Terminal 1, calling out in a loud voice: “Is there any Air Canada staff here?” Each time I got no answer. After several attempts, I heard someone with a walkie talkie. I walked over to the sound I heard, and asked if they worked for Air Canada. They said they did. They had not answered moments earlier, when I had called out for Air Canada staff. I had to do my best strong lawyerly advocacy to press them to get someone to help me. After a 12 hour flight and a 7 hour time change, this is not a pleasant way to end a trip.
Getting in the Airport’s Front Door
Here is another illustration of failed federal regulation compounding Air Canada bungling.
How does a blind person who goes to the airport get from the terminal’s front door to the check-in counter? In many airports, this is easy to do. In some US airports, you can check in at curbside. At any number of airports, it is easy for a friend or taxi driver, taking me to the airport, to stop their car in front of the terminal, and run in with me for 30 seconds to get me to the nearby check-in lineup.
Toronto Pearson Airport Terminal 1 is, by comparison, a total disaster. I have been waging a multi-year battle to get it fixed, and am now in the midst of a complaint before the Canadian Transportation Agency.
It is not possible to simply walk in the front doors at Toronto Pearson Airport Terminal 1 and get into the line to check in. The entire area is vast. It is a minefield of electronic kiosks to check in, barriers to direct line-ups and numerous desks to check in for different destinations.
There is no Air Canada greeter at the door to direct confused passengers, or to help people with disabilities who cannot find their way on their own. Indeed, if you ask any airline crew walking around for help, they often don’t know where you should go to check in for your particular flight. Clearly, those who designed Pearson at massive public expense gave no real attention to the needs of passengers with disabilities.
Because of this mess, for several years, Pearson Airport had a helpful but evidently unpublicized number to call, to request that someone meet me outside the terminal when I arrived. Several years ago, this service got shifted from the Greater Toronto Airport Authority GTTA to Air Canada for Terminal 1. It became totally unreliable and disorganized. I got this story onto CBC news, and filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency.
After a mediation process whose contents I am bound not to disclose, Air Canada commendably established a new check-in counter right inside the doors at Terminal 1. It was easy to find, and worked superbly. I have heard from Air Canada staff that both passengers and Air Canada crew really liked it. I was delighted with it, and used it several times.
Sadly, good solutions can be abolished, with no one being held accountable. I returned to Pearson Terminal 1 in March 2022 for my first flight in two years, after avoiding air travel during the pandemic. I was shocked to learn that Air Canada had eliminated that conveniently located check-in desk for passengers with disabilities during the pandemic. I asked Air Canada to restore it, now that the huge drop in air travel during the pandemic has ended, and air travel is again very busy. I have not gotten a positive answer.
I am being told that I must again use a phone number to call to have someone meet me outside the terminal. This is a service that has already proven itself to be undependable. The check-in desk for people with disabilities inside the terminal doors proved itself to be very successful, in contrast.
I have therefore had to file a second complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. It is now in mediation, which I cannot discuss, as it is properly subject to mediation confidentiality.
What We Need the Federal Government to Do
Air travel is a federal responsibility. It is great that Canada’s Disability Minister and Transport Minister have each condemned Air Canada’s treatment of Maayan Ziv, and committed to speak to Air Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency. However, that alone is woefully insufficient.
Canada needs far stronger regulations and enforcement on accessible air travel. The Canadian Transportation Agency as had responsibility for this for decades. Its regulatory actions have been too weak, and too friendly to the airlines, with whom it has appeared for years to be too cozy.
New accessible air travel regulations that the Canadian Transportation Agency enacted in the wake of the enactment of the Accessible Canada Act fit that description. They have not protected people with disabilities from the many barriers we face in air travel. Just ask Maayan Ziv.
Moreover, the Canadian Transportation Agency enforcement of accessible air travel is far too weak. We should not have to wait for the ordeals we face, and then have to file complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency, and then face huge airlines with their teams of lawyers who are paid to grind down the system as much as possible. We need proactive enforcement, spot audits, “secret shoppers” and other measures that will catch the airlines before another passenger has their wheelchair damaged, or is injured or dropped by airline staff when transferring them to their airplane seat, or stranded at some way station on the route from their airplane through the maze of the airport.
Central to this, we need the Federal Government to announce a plan of concrete action for reform. Central to this reform, responsibility for setting and enforcing standards for accessible air travel must be taken away from the Canadian Transportation Agency. It should be assigned to Canada’s new Accessibility Commissioner. The Canadian Transportation Agency has proven over and over that it cannot do a good job. We don’t need any more proof of that.
From 2015 to 2019, as the Federal Government was developing the promised Accessible Canada Act, we urged that responsibility for setting and enforcing accessible air travel standards be taken away from the Canadian Transportation Agency. Speaking for the Federal Government, Carla Qualtrough rejected this several years ago, protecting the airlines and the Canadian Transportation Agency bureaucracy, before she even began a public consultation on what the Accessible Canada Act should include. The Federal Government was told over and over that this was wrong. It’s time they listen. As you read the public statements by Canada’s Disability Minister and Transportation Minister on the Maayan Ziv case, remember that they have defended this bureaucratic status quo which perpetuates the barriers that passengers with disabilities should no longer have to face.
Air line presidents and senior executives should be publicly called to account. They should be summoned before a committee of the House of Commons and grilled on their failures to properly serve passengers with disabilities. As long as an airline president and senior executives face no direct consequences, they will continue to treat accessible air travel as a low priority. That message will continue to trickle down through the massive organizations they lead. I’ll say it again – People with disabilities deserve better!
September 11, 2022 Tweet by Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough
Originally posted at https://twitter.com/CQualtro/status/1569029553951211520
Text of tweet:
“@CQualtro: Please see a joint statement from the Minister of Transport and me: https://t.co/fJGyNNZJjO”
That tweet included a photograph of a statement, which, for those who know how to navigate to alt text, read as follows:
“One in five Canadians have a disability. To build a more inclusive society, we all have a role to play. What Ms. Maayan Ziv recently experienced on an Air Canada flight is completely unacceptable. This accessibility advocate has taken all necessary measures to prevent this from happening, but Air Canada has not taken the necessary measures on their side to ensure that her wheelchair arrives in good condition at her destination. Our government is concerned about the situation and we have communicated it to Air Canada. People with disabilities have a right to expect that they can travel safely and that is not what happened in this situation. Our government will continue to follow the situation closely.”
September 11, 2022 Facebook Post by Federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough
September 11 at 2:55 PM
I am deeply concerned by the lack of care and dignity being afforded to airline passengers with disabilities in Canada, and about the lack of accountability and corrective action on the part of airlines. Recent media coverage has highlighted incidents where staff have dropped and/or mistreated passengers, personal mobility devices have been damaged or destroyed, and equipment meant to improve accessibility was unavailable or broken. This is unacceptable.
While these examples are recent, these issues are long-standing. We heard time and again during the consultations for the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) about the discrimination and barriers within our transportation networks. This led to transportation being a priority in the ACA, under which the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) is responsible for the development and enforcement of accessibility standards within the federal transportation sector.
While the CTA has rules, regulations, and guidelines in place to protect the rights of persons with disabilities to travel safely and with dignity, these are clearly not translating into disability inclusive service by airlines.
I have spoken to the Minister of Transport and will be meeting with Air Canada and the CTA to discuss further action. This is about way more than poor
service or damaged luggage – it is about independence, access, and equality.
We need to do much better. Everyone deserves to travel with confidence and dignity.
Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal September 21, 2022
Originally posted at https://www.chroniclejournal.com/business/national_business/damaged-wheelchair-renews-calls-for-greater-regulation-of-airline-disability-services/article_07ebdb81-e5bf-54f1-84e9-82c55434f013.html
Damaged wheelchair renews calls for greater regulation of airline disability services
Caitlin Yardley The Canadian Press Sep 21, 2022 Updated Sep 21, 2022
TORONTO – A disability activist whose wheelchair was severely damaged during a recent flight says mobility aids are treated no better than luggage, leading to renewed calls for greater regulation of airline disability services.
Maayan Ziv says her wheelchair was rendered inoperable after an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv, Israel to attend the Access Israel disability conference earlier this month.
Air Canada said that the airline offered to pay for the damages and sent a specialty repair person immediately to Ziv’s hotel.
“Regrettably, in this case we did not meet our normal service levels. We did respond to this customer’s concerns immediately at the airport, including arranging for a specialized wheelchair service to fix the damage,” Air Canada said in an emailed statement.
However, Ziv says that the mishandling of mobility aids happens all too often and that monetary compensation is not enough.
“For me, that’s the bare minimum. What about my time? What about the health of my body, and the amount of trauma that I still experience? Like, I’m not OK,” said Ziv.
“People with disabilities are experiencing this second-class citizen treatment, where our mobility devices are treated like baggage instead of extensions of our bodies, which is what they are.”
Activists such as the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, David Lepofsky, said that Ziv’s story is horrible but not surprising, as there have been a number of reports where mobility devices and passengers were improperly handled by airlines.
“The fact of the matter is, air travel in Canada is not properly supervised, to ensure that it is safe and accessible for people with disabilities,” said Lepofsky.
If an airline does not meet its obligations and a person has tried to resolve their problem and isn’t satisfied with the result, they may file a complaint with the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) — though a major backlog means travellers could have to wait some time to get a response.
The CTA faced a total of 28,673 complaints for the year up to March 31, including 12,158 new complaints and the carry-over of 16,515 reports from the previous fiscal year. Of the total, about half involved flight disruptions, which have spiked since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
After investigating a complaint, the agency can issue a fine up to $250,000 where it finds a transportation service provider has not complied with regulations, said CTA spokesperson Martine Maltais.
Lepofsky says there are several levels to the problem that need fixing and that safeguards should be in place along with federal regulatory changes to increase accountability for the mishandling of passengers with disabilities and their mobility aids.
Jane Deeks, a spokesperson for Qualtrough’s office met with the CTA on Tuesday and has plans to meet with Air Canada to discuss how they can better enforce existing standards.
“No passenger without a disability would tolerate this kind of treatment,” said Lepofsky. “If you are a walking person and you had to worry every time you got on an airplane whether the airline would break your legs, (that) is not something that you would find acceptable.”
CBC News September 17, 2022
Disability minister promises to correct ‘long-standing problem’ of airlines damaging mobility aids. Canada’s federal minister of disability inclusion is promising to help reform air travel for people with disabilities after a Toronto advocate’s wheelchair was “totally damaged” during an Air Canada flight.
Disability advocate’s wheelchair found ‘totally damaged’ after Air Canada flight last week
Carla Qualtrough, the federal minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, says she’s concerned about the lack of care given to airline passengers with disabilities, and the ‘lack of accountability and corrective action’ from airlines. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Canada’s federal minister of disability inclusion is promising to help reform air travel for people with disabilities after a Toronto advocate’s wheelchair was “totally damaged” while in the care of Air Canada employees.
CBC Toronto told Maayan Ziv’s story last week soon after she found her $30,000 wheelchair broken after landing in Israel for an international accessibility conference last Thursday.
The minister, Carla Qualtrough, responded to the story this week, calling the incident an example of a “long-standing problem” with airlines mistreating people with disabilities and their mobility devices.
“We have to figure out a way to end this once and for all,” said Qualtrough, who’s also the minister of Employment and Workforce Development.
“I promise you, we’re on it.”
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), which regulates air travel, said in an email to CBC Toronto it “cannot comment” on the incident.
But within the next week, Qualtrough says she’ll meet with the CTA and Air Canada to convey her concerns and work out an action plan to prevent any more such incidents.
‘I’m looking for accountability’
Ziv’s story triggered an outpouring of support on social media from people who’ve also had airlines mishandle their mobility aids.
“I’m looking for accountability that doesn’t just recognize the harm done to me, but to the thousands of people that I’ve now heard from that have shared similar stories,” Ziv said.
Kristin Hayes is one of them.
Hayes, who lives in Toronto, says her wheelchair has been damaged multiple times while flying.
But she says her trip to Hawaii four years ago was her worst experience of all. Hayes says American Airlines misplaced her wheelchair and took 30 hours to find it and give it back to her.
“And that was after a lot of phone calls, an enormous amount of stress, panic, feeling completely helpless and for many of those hours, not having any answers,” she told CBC Toronto.
“How many times does this need to happen before somebody other than us cares enough to try to help us do something about it?”
Kristin Hayes, who uses a wheelchair, is a frequent traveller. The Toronto woman says the airline industry needs to change the way it treats people with disabilities and their mobility aids. (Submitted by Kristin Hayes)
Steve Kean’s worst experience flying happened during a 2009 trip with EasyJet to Venice, Italy. The Toronto man says when he got his wheelchair back, its right front wheel was “three inches off the ground.”
“I’m thousands and thousands of miles away from home and my wheelchair is busted,” Kean recalled.
“What the heck am I supposed to do?”
Passengers with disabilities say they want to remain in wheelchairs on flights
Decades earlier, Kean remembers almost falling three times on an Air Canada plane while transferring back to his wheelchair from an aisle seat.
“I think they were more afraid of the lawsuit than helping a human being.”
Steve Kean, 54, says airlines need a major ‘attitude’ change. The Toronto man says he wants to stay seated in his wheelchair on flights so he doesn’t have to entrust it to somebody who ‘isn’t going to know how to take care of it.’ (Paul Borkwood/CBC)
While both Kean and Hayes say their individuals situations have been resolved, they hope the spotlight on Ziv’s story pushes the federal government to crack down.
For her part, Qualtrough has asked people with disabilities to continue pushing the government “to do better.”
“Keep helping us hold companies to account, because that’s the only way we’re going to get the change that we need.”
Crew Insider September 11, 2022
Canadian Government Slams Air Canada After Disability Activist’s Wheelchair is Damaged ‘Beyond Repair’
Paddle Your Own Kanoo
11TH SEPTEMBER 2022
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant…
A disability rights activist has been left in “tremendous” pain after Air Canada damaged her specialized wheelchair “beyond repair” and now the Canadian
government says it is watching the situation closely and could take further action.
On Sunday afternoon, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra told Air Canada that it had failed to “take the necessary measures” to ensure Maayan Ziv’s wheelchair arrived in good condition.
Maayan lives with Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic condition that can cause severe muscle weakness and degeneration. She relies on a specialized electric wheelchair which gives her mobility and which she describes as her “entire life”.
Last week, Maayan flew with Air Canada from Toronto to Tel Aviv, Israel. She placed her electric wheelchair in the care of Air Canada, but ten and a half
hours later, Maayan discovered that her wheelchair had been badly damaged.
Ironically, Maayan was travelling to Israel to attend an accessibility conference.
Air Canada initially offered Maayan just $300 in the form of an e-voucher for the damage to her wheelchair before eventually agreeing to cover the cost of repair or replacement.
Unfortunately, the repairs could take weeks or even months, and in the meantime, Maayan has had her “independence stripped” from her. Maayan has been struggling through the conference but says she is “in a lot of pain sitting in my mangled wheelchair, which is an extension of how my body is feeling”.
Thankfully, luggage repair workers at Israel Ben Gurion airport have managed to unbend some of the damage but the seating is “so warped beyond repair” that Maayan has been left in “tremendous numbness and pain”.
“What Ms. Maayan Ziv recently experienced on an Air Canada flight is completely unacceptable,” wrote Alghabra on Sunday.
“This accessibility advocate has taken all necessary measures to prevent this from happening, but Air Canada has not taken the necessary measures on their side to ensure that her wheelchair arrives in good conditions at her destination”.
“Our government is concerned about the situation and we have communicated it to Air Canada,” Alghabra continued.
“People with disabilities have a right to expect that they can travel safely and that is not what happened in this situation. Our government will continue
to follow the situation closely.”