Three days ago, after I attended the meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs (This is another story.), a nice lady from Autism Society of the Philippines (Sorry, her name slipped my mind.) mentioned about the incident involving deaf persons and was printed in Philippine Daily Inquirer. Although I heard about it from the deaf group, I still want to know more. After a few searches, I got hold of the Opinion Article of Mr. Raul Pangalangan posted only last April 11.
He explained about Cebu Pacific Airlines refusing to board ten deaf passengers on a flight to the world renowned Boracay Island. All ten were already seated inside the plane, when the crew told them to disembark, citing their policy that blind and deaf passengers had to be properly accompanied in order to be treated as regular passengers. If unaccompanied, “he/she may be accepted for carriage provided he/she can take care of himself/herself on the ground and in-flight.”
The irony was that four members of the group were visiting Americans who had flown all the way to the Philippines on their own, without a hitch, and had demonstrably met the internationally stringent standards of other airlines. They had come to attend the grand centennial of the Philippine School for the Deaf, the oldest such school in the Philippines and Asia. They hadn’t been apprised of the policy in advance. Worst of all, though they were promised a full refund, what they received was short by Php590 (USD13), the agent’s service fee apparently. (In the end, only two of the passengers were allowed to board.)
Now, where in heaven’s vast expanse did they ever thought of this ridiculous policy? Granted that a deaf person belongs to the disabled sector. However, this smacks against the very basic human rights (disabled or not) of freedom to travel which is guaranteed by our constitution.
Let me enumerate why this is an absolutely absurd policy and their situation merits exclusion.
- Ignorance of disability. A deaf person is not a dumb person. They do not ALWAYS need a companion to interpret for them. They can read instructions and understand stewardess’ demonstration on basic safety rules and what to do in case of emergency. In other words, THEY CAN TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. In the first place, why were they allowed to board a plane all the way from USA if they cannot comprehend common directions?
- Equal treatment is not cost-free. Additional companion entails costs. I remember Philippine Airlines give 50% discounts ONLY to caregivers of disabled passenger but not all airline companies. Republic Act 7277 otherwise known as “Magna Carta for the Disabled Persons” only accords 20% transport discount for PWD on land travels although the new Republic Act 9442 covers all means of travel. Victory Liner Bus Company never provide discounts to PWDs. Why do you hassle yourself by paying for an escort if you can survive on your own?
- This policy humiliates the PWD and their right for independent living. Many senior citizens travel alone. Technology made a blind person navigate through the horrible streets of Calcutta, India only with an aid of his global positioning system (GPS) device. It has been known worldwide that deaf people are well-traveled group. Why can’t they travel unconstrained?
- Preferential treatments at times lead to a subtle form of discrimination. Wheelchaired people are first to board the plane but are always last to disembark. If they are often seated in front and don’t impede human traffic, why are they last to get off? How often do we see especially marked “Disabled Seats” in Light Rail Transit (LRT) occupied by other non-disabled people?
- Right of inclusion. We want disabled people to be productive citizens in our country. We don’t want them to depend on dole outs and welfare from anyone. Traveling is one way of showing them that they are “one of us”. I remember an insulting suggestion made by a popular Metro Manila government official saying that, “Wheelchaired people must not roam around the streets because it’s dangerous for them. They should always stay at home where they are safe.” Now this comment is way too much. They are not prisoners or are not under house-arrest. Why can’t they travel?
I have always been an admirer of Cebu Pacific because they are true to their commitment of delivering low fare rates and always on time motto. But this is one area where Persons With Disabilities can cry foul and in direct violation of their human dignity.
It’s a pity because Deaf communities especially from affluent countries travel a lot. I’ve met many of them come to the Philippines from as far as UK, the Netherlands and Switzerland. They have the resources and often travel by groups. Our country is a great destination. I have interpreted more than a handful of weddings involving a foreigner and a Filipina deaf. Our deaf people use the basic American Sign Language as a form of communication, an internationally accepted language. We might even attract prospective visitors and increase our tourism revenue if we can tap this potential.
But with this dreadful and discriminating restriction, it is almost like saying, “Hey, we don’t want people like you! You have no room in our country.”
This blog post also appear in Withnews:Internet News for the Disabled and the Poor.