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Jessi Ryan

Are Australian airports leaving passengers with accessibility needs behind?

For those of us with a disability, Australian airports appear to not give a lot of consideration to our accessibility needs, and the final report and recommendations tabled last month by the Royal Commission Into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People With Disability suggest we are being left behind, as does my personal experience.

I came head to head with some of these failings while travelling interstate recently on work, after my medical device triggered security screening processes at Melbourne Airport. The experience left me feeling dehumanised, and I was completely unprepared for such treatment.

The disability royal commission, which was established in August 2019, held two workshops with members of the disability sector to discuss the breadth of issues within aviation industries faced by passengers with accessibility needs.

The process uncovered reports that people with disability “often encounter inaccessible facilities and services at airports and face unhelpful practices and systems adopted by airlines”.

These concerns were raised with the CEOs of airlines and airport facilities in February 2023 in a letter sent by the royal commission’s chair, Ronald Sackville.

When I approached the airport about my experience, its head of community engagement Andrew Lund said that “airport screening processes are dictated to by the Department of Home Affairs”.

Later Lund told Crikey: “Home Affairs prescribes what processes are carried out and how airports should go about them. There are various subsections that deal with different categories of passengers that may have special circumstances.”

He acknowledged Melbourne Airport had become “increasingly aware that it can be more difficult than it should be for passengers with special needs”: “The letter sent by Ronald Sackville in February really just solidified these concerns.”

Melbourne Airport is undertaking a full review of its accessibility requirements led by consultancy firm Get Skilled Access — founded by Dylan and Zack Alcott, who were unable to comment by time of publication.

Lund said: “It is a really tricky environment because it is so regulated, but we think there is scope for improvements. Certainly, in our discussions with Home Affairs we’ve expressed that there is room for change.”

He also admitted it’s a tricky question to answer without “the security clearance needed to view the document that prescribes what [Melbourne Airport] need to do”.

Despite these issues and the correlations with reports from the disability royal commission, the Attorney–General’s Department told Crikey it “would not be making a comment on airport security matters in this instance”.

In May 2022, former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes called out Adelaide Airport security, describing his experience as  “humiliating” and “distressing” and later tweeting “that he was ready to go to court if necessary”. He claimed that after his assistance dog’s metal harness had triggered security alarms, he was treated to overzealous search methods. 

Even before the disability royal commission began, it was nothing new for members of disability communities to report less-than-perfect experiences travelling through Australian airports.  

A Home Affairs spokesperson would not comments on the findings of the disability royal commission: “The department consults with a range of organisations regarding security screening procedures to ensure that they don’t hinder a person’s access to aviation transport.”

These organisations include the Australian Network on Disability, Pride in Diversity, Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), Assistance Dogs Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

It added that it was aware of and supports the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communication and the Arts “disability access facilitation plans”, which are intended as a framework for operators to develop ways to communicate to the travelling public “the availability and accessibility of services for passengers with disability”.

When approached by Crikey, the department confirmed it was hastily conducting a review of information on its website. By time of publication, it notified Crikey via email that all information relating to disability access facilitation plans across Australian aviation providers on its website was now true and correct.

Have you suffered humiliating treatment at an Australian airport? Let us know by writing to Please include your full name to be considered for publicationWe reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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