Flying with Dignity

FlyNamibia hosts "Engaging for Equality: Namibia Symposium on Air Travel and Disability Inclusion"

“Flying with dignity.” With three small words, panel moderator Hilda Basson-Namundjebo summarises an issue of magnitude and great importance. Before her is gathered a room full of stakeholders for the inaugural Namibia Symposium on Air Travel and Disability Inclusion. This groundbreaking event, hosted by FlyNamibia, aimed to address the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and foster a more inclusive and accessible air travel experience for all.

The symposium served as a platform for open and productive dialogue among industry leaders, disability advocates, policymakers, and representatives from various organisations. Under the theme of disability inclusion, the discussions focussed on the current limitations faced by individuals with disabilities and explored solutions to ensure equitable access to air travel for all.

The event began with opening remarks delivered by Mr Andre Compion, Managing Director of FlyNamibia. He warmly welcomed all attendees and emphasised the airline’s commitment to disability inclusion in air travel. Compion acknowledged a recent incident involving a passenger with a disability and admitted feeling ashamed of the unpreparedness within the industry to handle such situations. This incident served as a catalyst for change and sparked a deep reflection on the need for empathy and understanding when serving passengers with disabilities.

The keynote address was delivered by Honourable Alexia Manombe-Ncube, Deputy Minister of Disability Affairs at the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication, and Social Welfare. She commended FlyNamibia for their proactive approach in organising the symposium, emphasising the alignment of its objectives with the government’s goals and initiatives. The deputy minister highlighted the importance of collaboration among industry leaders, advocates, and policymakers to achieve meaningful progress in creating a more inclusive environment in Namibia.

One of the pivotal moments of the symposium was the panel discussion. The panel comprised industry leaders, government representatives, and disability advocates who shared their expertise and perspectives on the subject matter. Bisey Uirab, CEO of Namibia Airports Company, acknowledged the historical oversight of disability considerations during the construction of Namibian airports. He emphasised NAC’s commitment to making necessary changes and modernising airport infrastructure to cater to the needs of all passengers.

Interventions made by attendees of the symposium shed light on even further challenges, such as those faced by individuals with invisible disabilities and neurodivergence, highlighting the lack of understanding and awareness as significant barriers. Participants recognised the need for comprehensive training for airline personnel to create a supportive and accommodating environment. FlyNamibia’s Managing Director, Andre Compion also emphasised the importance of equipping employees with the necessary knowledge and skills to assist differently-abled passengers effectively.

The discussions at the symposium revealed the complexity of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities in air travel, underscoring the need for a collective effort to integrate disability-inclusive practices into plans and policies.

Another significant aspect discussed was the fear of stigma, which acts as a major barrier preventing many individuals with non-visible disabilities from travelling. By addressing this fear and implementing comprehensive disability inclusion measures, airlines can create an environment where all passengers feel comfortable and empowered to travel.

The symposium served as a call to action for the entire aviation industry in Namibia. It highlighted the importance of collaboration, awareness, and empathy to provide a safe, pleasant, and dignified experience for passengers with disabilities. 

The inaugural Namibia Symposium on Air Travel and Disability Inclusion marks a significant step towards creating an aviation industry that respects the dignity and rights of all individuals, regardless of their abilities. Through ongoing training, infrastructure improvements, and comprehensive policies, the industry should aim to set a new standard for disability inclusion in air travel. Plans for future engagements and initiatives are already underway to further advance the symposium’s agenda. FlyNamibia remains committed to driving positive change and will continue to work closely with industry stakeholders, disability advocates, and policymakers to foster a more inclusive and accessible travel experience.

As we move forward, it is crucial that each individual becomes a champion for persons with disabilities. By embracing the principles of empathy, understanding, and equality, we can create a more inclusive society where every person, regardless of ability, can fly with dignity. As the Honourable Deputy Minister Manombe-Ncube reminded the delegation: Let us be the change we wish to see in the world and work together to unlock a whole new world of better experiences for individuals living and travelling with disabilities.

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