In the wake of the Air Namibia incident whereby a physically challenged person was denied access on a domestic flight, the Deputy Minister responsible for disability affairs in the Presidency Alexia Manombe-Ncube says more needs to be done to cater for people with disabilities. Referring to the Air Namibia incident in an interview with this newspaper this week, Manombe-Ncube said she has faced incidences of discrimination in terms of boarding local flights herself and has been forced to drive long distances particularly when on official duty due to her physical disability.
“It (discrimination) is actually a broader problem. It has been there and even myself, I have faced that but I came to understand that the system does not allow us (makes no provision for wheelchair-bound persons),” lamented Ncube. Air Namibia’s Embraer Rear Jet which services the domestic routes does not cater for wheelchair-bound passengers.
She further added: “We are actually working as an office on the system of accommodation. Currently with this specific incident (Air Namibia), we understood the apology from Air Namibia but that (apology) is not enough. In my view more still needs to be done.
We are a country that have ratified a lot of legal instruments that are providing for the accessibility for people with disabilities.”
In addition, Ncube said Air Namibia should acquaint itself with the 2007 United Nations Convention on the right of persons with disabilities. She said: “In 2007, we already ratified the UN Convention of the rights of persons with disabilities and Article 9 talks about transport for people with disabilities. To make transport accessible to people with disabilities.” Ncube added she was perplexed as to “whether Air Namibia” was aware of the 2007 United Nations Convention which discussed the rights of persons living disabilities.
“I don’t know whether Air Namibia was gotten this (UN Convention) legal instrument. And if they do, why didn’t they do anything about it. Our Office is already making plans to meet Air Namibia, we still want to make a follow-up but particularly on that incident. “Because like I said, this has happened to a lot of us (people living with disabilities). Like myself here, as deputy minister I cannot go a quick meeting (like to Katima Mulilo). I always have to be on the road driving,” briefly stated Ncube. More however, Ncube said the recent incident involving the 16-year-old Martin serves as a “wake up call” that nothing has been done to accommodate physically-challenged persons on Namibian planes.
Article 9 of the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability states that: “States parties (such as Air Namibia) shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.”
Ncube’s remarks come at a time when Air Namibia was caught off guard about a fortnight ago in what was seen as “discrimination” in which the national airliner barred 16-year-old Walvis Bay resident Victoria Martin who is wheelchair-bound from boarding a flight from the coastal town to Windhoek. In the widely publicized incident, Martin who has been a paraplegic (paralysis of the legs and lower body) for two years after a car accident which saw her lose the use of her lower limbs was denied passage on an Air Namibia plane.
In its defence, Air Namibia said it regretted the incident, and apologised to the mother and daughter for the incident and inconveniences caused by being denied to board the ERJ 35 Embraer aircraft.
At the time, Air Namibia’s head of communications, Paul Nakawa said: “The domestic routes are serviced by the Embraer Rear Jet (ERJ) with the seat capacity of 37 passengers. However, the ERJ aircraft does not make provision for wheelchair-bound passengers due to its narrow size, design and weight restrictions.”