Monday, September 20, 2010

Passengers with wheelchairs

There is no excuse for discriminating against passengers with disabilities. I believe that airlines and other transport services should not only do everything reasonably within their power to make their services available to everybody, but that this should be done without additional cost to the passenger who needs the support.

However, there is an issue of "reasonableness". A certain airline has been criticised in some quarters because of this case. In short, the airline has expressed reluctance to carry wheelchairs weighing over 60kg for passengers, unless they can be dismantled into manageable sections. On the back of this, "all airlines" are being called upon to change their policy and make it easier for disabled people to fly.

Let's be clear about what is being asked of the airline. A chair that weighs 120-140kg weighs as much as seven heavy cases, and about four times the maximum permitted weight for passenger cases (and as much as two normal-sized people!!). It is also not designed to be manhandled - when it arrived from the factory or store, it would probably have been driven off a lorry, not lifted off. At the owner's house, it would stay on ground level. I have tried to carry one - with three other loaders - and it was almost impossible - as much as anything else, there are no handholds to facilitate it. They are built to move around using their own propulsion system. The passenger's chair is more expensive on its own than the luggage of the average family.

Travel is inconvenient for everybody: nobody really travels "their way" unless they are a millionaire. Airlines have arrangements in place to carry passengers with reduced mobility - including those who are paraplegic. Given this, it seems sententious to me to argue that the airline is discriminating against disability because it is unable to easily transport something that was never designed to be transported in the first place. It is as much the responsibility of the passenger to work with the airline and find out how they can be accommodated. Passengers with specific requirements who realise that they are making unusual demands and are polite about it are generally treated with respect, sympathy and consideration, and generally staff (and other passengers!) will do what they can to help out. People who are perceived to be making unreasonable demands as "my rights!" may get what they want in the short term, but end up alienating themselves from others and hardening attitudes against themselves.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hari on Haiti

I often disagree with Johann Hari, who writes for The Independent. However, if what he says about the role of corporations in Haiti and the complicity of states in the developed world is true, then he deserves to be more widely read, on this issue at least.

Benedict XVI - UK Tour 2010

The transcript of the Pope's speech at Westminster Hall can be found on the BBC website here. He was arguing for the need for a society to continue to have a role for expressions of faith within public dialogue - that the relegation of religion to a purely private sphere is intolerant, and weakens society.

Obviously, he did not name names. However, within secularism, Stephen Gould (in "Rocks of Ages") argued precisely that the "magisterium" of faith should be private, in contrast to science and reason-based knowledge, which should be the basis of public discourse. Inevitably, he did little in the way of epistemology to justify this position. Richard Dawkins goes further in his abhorrence of faith and religion - lumping all religions together with superstitions and anti-science, declaring them to be mental viruses whose influence is entirely parasitic upon society. There are other oft-quoted writers who argue that religion is required for good people to do bad things.

You have to be fairly dishonest (or ignorant) about history to cast out the beneficial influence of some parts of Christianity - though it would be fair to point out that Benedict didn't mention the Crusades or the Inquisition. Whilst I have some sympathy with the content of his speech, and the need for religious conscience to have an impact on public discourse, I would disagree with him when it comes to his suggestion that this discussion will in part be between secular authorities and the "Holy See" as he refers to it. I would suggest that Benedict is carrying out his own form of revisionism in claiming the benefits of dialogue of conscience as being derived in part from the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church frankly does not have a good track record in this regard. Christian conscience, in biblical terms, finds expression primarily in the individual voice reacting to secular powers. The Catholic Church operates as an alternative power (as, for that matter, do many religious organisations - cults, established churches, theocracies, even Calvin's government in Geneva), and it's the defence of that power and the attempt to reinforce that power that has led and continues to lead to abuses.

I believe people must be allowed freedom of conscience - this is a freedom that people over centuries have sacrificed their lives for, and is probably one of the most important marks of a civilised society. But I don't believe this means that institutions (including religious institutions) have the freedom to operate as alternatives to society. It was the sense that Catholicism was supposedly answerable to higher values that, in my opinion, allowed such things as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the abuses that Luther was reacting against at the time of the Reformation, and the abuse of cared-for children. There should be freedom of conscience, and a place for dialogue upon that basis, yes - but between the society and individuals, not between secular powers and religious powers.