"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Friday, April 10, 2009

Just How Equal Are We?

When I wrote enthusiastically about Air Canada's new (albeit forced) policy to allow support persons to travel for free when accompanying a person with a disability, I noted on their website a laundry list of disabilities which, according to the airline, would "require medical approval for travel". A list which caused me a little concern.

In the same post, I noted the case of a partially deaf and blind Vancouver man who was awarded $10,000 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal after Air Canada insisted he fly accompanied when he felt perfectly capable of flying on his own. Although the Human Rights Commission did not order the airline to automatically allow Mr. Morton to fly unaccompanied it did order the airline to give him an individual assessment of his abilities before making any decision as to whether or not he could fly alone.

Which I must say, makes a lot of sense to me. If the airline is truly worried about the safety of its passengers, as it asserts, than common sense tells you it needs to inquire into whether or not Mr. Morton will be able to travel safely on his own. Not make blanket decisions and issue proclamations based on stereotypes.

Actually, it's much like the well-recognized Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR) in the human rights employment context. If the employer can prove that doing X is an itegral part of the job and that even with accommodation, a person is unable of performing X, a BFOR has been established. Let's give Mr. Morton a chance to show whether or not he is capable of reacting to standard safety procedures without assistance. If he can, there is no need for a support person.

But apparently Air Canada disagrees. The airline has appealed the Human Rights Tribunal decision to the Federal Court of Canada.

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