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ABC News

Airports and airlines on notice after people with disability speak out about humiliating treatment

Akii Ngo posted this picture on Instagram after an incident at Adelaide Airport. (Instagram: Akii Ngo)

More people with disability have come forward, describing "dehumanising" treatment at airports across the country, after Australia's former disability discrimination commissioner spoke out about his recent experience at Adelaide Airport.

Graeme Innes said he was refused access to use the body scanner and was asked to use a walk-through X-ray scanner at the airport on Friday.

He said a security guard then decided he needed a pat-down, despite him not triggering the security alarm, which had instead been set off by his dog's metal harness.

Further accounts have since emerged from airport passengers with disability who say they have been subjected to rough handling, including model and disability access consultant Akii Ngo.

Akii was on a high, returning home via Adelaide from Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, where they participated as a model in the "Fix The System Not Me" adaptive clothing collective show.

But Akii said that when they were being transported in the airline's wheelchair through Adelaide Airport, Jetstar staff seemed to lack experience when handling people who required mobility support.

"The first thing the staff member said was: 'You should have held on tighter.'

"I couldn't get up — it was dehumanising."

In an Instagram post, Akii said the experience was "horrible" and "terrible". 

Akii Ngo had been returning from Australian Fashion Week. (ABC News: Patrick Stone)

A Jetstar spokesperson said staff were "well trained to provide assistance to customers requiring wheelchairs", and said the airline had since reached out to Akii.

"A number of team members attended to assist the customer on the aerobridge, and assisted them through the airport to the baggage carousel," the spokesperson said.

"We've also reached out to the customer several times yesterday and today to better understand their experience and are waiting to hear back.

"We continue to investigate what happened in this instance."

'How am I supposed to know you're with a guide dog?'

Former FIFO worker Viv Bachelier — who worked as a psychologist for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) — said she had had dozens of humiliating experiences while transiting through Adelaide Airport security with her guide dog.

Viv Bachelier routinely passed through Adelaide Airport while working for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. (Supplied)

On one occasion, she said, a security staff member told her she was going through the wrong security lane.

"I said, 'I'm sorry, I'm standing here with my guide dog. I can't see what lane I'm supposed to go down'," Ms Bachelier recalled.

"He said, 'How am I supposed to know you're with a guide dog? You're not wearing a vision impaired badge – you should be wearing one of those badges.'

"I said: 'Excuse me? That's not my responsibility to tell you I have a disability'."

Ms Bachelier, from Canberra, said she had so many belittling experiences at the airport that she started asking airline staff to assist her through security.

"[The security staff] would use really generic terms — 'just come over here, put that there'," Ms Bachelier said.

"When you're vision impaired you don't have those concepts — you can't see."

Viv Bachelier says she has had so many belittling experiences at Adelaide Airport. (Supplied: Viv Bachelier)

An Adelaide Airport spokesperson said it had not received any notification about the incidents, but would "welcome" a chance to discuss possible improvements.

"We weren't aware of the concerns raised by the customer," the spokesperson said.

"We would welcome an opportunity to speak with her so we can help make her journey through Adelaide Airport more smooth in the future and we can further improve how our teams support customers with a disability."

Mother calls for more training

Perth woman Filipa Scott said she had made recent complaints to Perth Airport about security's treatment of her 17-year-old daughter, who has autism and PTSD.

Her daughter, Myles, uses an assistance dog, and Ms Scott said she was not allowed to use the body scanner and was asked to go through a side gate and have a physical pat-down.

"It's a huge issue for a someone with enormous sensory issues," Ms Scott said.

"We offered for her to go through the main scanner with myself in charge of the dog, then let the dog go through and be scanned and [be] patted down, then for myself to go through.

"They refused, stating they could not separate daughter and dog — even if this process was traumatising for her."

Viv Bachelier's guide dog, Gracie, is one of the many assistance animals to pass through airports. (Supplied)

Ms Scott said a few months later her daughter tried to pass the same security again, and had to convince staff to use an alternative security check — using the email received from Perth Airport apologising for the first incident.

"No-one should have to go to that level — I think the workers need to hear from people with actual experience [of disability]," she said.

A Perth Airport spokesperson said all security staff undertook additional training on screening passengers with assistance animals and alternative screening methods after Myles's experience.

"Although the screening procedure was carried out correctly and professionally, the use of a handheld metal detector may have been the most suitable method of security screening in this instance," the spokesperson said.

"A detailed response and apology was provided to the passengers following this investigation."