Cape Town-130123-Through the efforts of Are (27. left) and Wenche (71) Hovstad, airlines have changed the toilets in aricraft to accomodate disabled people. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Cape Town - The International Air Transport Association (Iata) is tightening up on the enforcement of regulations for disabled facilities, thanks to a Constantia couple’s determined fight to bring a little relief to wheelchair-bound passengers on flights.

Iata is to inform its 240 members worldwide they must comply with the requirements “to enable people with disabilities to enter, manoeuvre within as necessary and leave the toilet by means of the aircraft’s onboard wheelchair”.

Failure to do so will mean the wheelchair logo cannot be used.

“It’s just what we asked for,” said Norwegians Are Hovstad and his wife Wenche, who have conducted a long campaign to correct the situation for wheelchair-bound passengers who cannot use an airline toilet even with the small, on-board chair.

It has caused much embarrassment to Are, who was injured in a skiing accident. He has had to wait while air stewards bring blankets to screen him from other passengers so he can use a bottle.

“We are overjoyed at the letter received on January 14 from Thomas S Windmuller, Corporate Secretary and Senior Vice President, Member and Government Relations,” said Wenche.

“By going straight to the top, rather than approach the different airlines, we’ve had results. We are impressed that Iata has taken it so seriously, and has consulted its members and made them aware that they do have a problem if they do not adhere to rules and regulations.”

In June 2012 before the Paralympics, the Hovstads wrote to Tony Taylor, Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association at Iata’s twin head offices in Canada and Switzerland.

They pointed out that internationally-recognised wheelchair-friendly logos were being placed on toilet doors without the airlines meeting the regulated standards.

“Some carriers might be complying but our experience on international flights with SAA, British Airways, KLM and Turkish airlines was that the loos were not wheelchair friendly and frequent flyers… have told us that the cubicles on Emirates were minute,” said Wenche.

Thomas Windmuller replied, “It is clear the (Iata) members we consulted do affix the symbol with the confirmation that it identifies accessible toilets for reduced mobility passengers. We fully agree with you that the symbols should indicate an accessible lavatory. To ensure that this remains the case, Iata will issue a communication to its members calling attention to proper use of the logo early this year.

“We will continue to work with government authorities on standardising regulations in this area, allowing for less confusion on the part of passengers and easier compliance on the part of airlines.”

The Hovstads have also campaigned for air carriers globally to take into consideration the needs of disabled people when designing new and newly refurbished aircraft.

The Hovstads are staunch campaigners for equal rights for the disabled. In 2007 Are was appointed Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit by King Harald V in recognition for his contribution to humanitarian work in the education and health sector.

“The protest process has meant lots of frustration, letter writing, misunderstandings and putting up with nonsense from officials who are convinced everything is fine as it is,” said Wenche. “It’s mindboggling to think of the impact our breakthrough will have on the world’s airline industry to the benefit of the many wheelchair users who will now be able to ascertain before they travel, whether the carrier has the facilities they need.”

SAA had not responded to queries at the time of going to press.

- Cape Times