|Saturday, May 5, 2018, will live in the memory of 30-year-old, Rita Kriba for the wrong reasons.
She feels she was discriminated against by staff of Africa World Airlines Limited (AWA) at the Kotaka International Airport, when she was kept from boarding a scheduled flight to Kumasi because the crutches she uses to get around were apparently an inconvenience to the Airline.
Rita needs the crutches to help her move around as she faces some mobility challenges because she is a person with a disability.
When Citi News’ Caleb Kudah sat down to talk to her about the incident on Saturday at Burma Camp, it was clear her disability had not weighed her down in life but given her a drive and purpose to fight for a group of persons the UN has described as “the world’s largest minority”.
She works at the Department of Social Welfare and also runs an NGO called the Disabled Child and Youth Foundation. Fighting for a person with disabled-friendly Ghana is what she has dedicated her life to.
“I want people with disabilities to be treated as normal citizens of Ghana. I want children with disability to grow up knowing that they are part of the society, knowing that they can also create an impact, knowing that they are like any other [able-bodied] person and they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.”
She was on her way to Kumasi for what she called “a very important meeting” relating to her NGO when she said the incident at the airport happened.
She had just finished partaking in a Young Africa Leaders Initiative (YALI) programme at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) in Accra. Her meeting in Kumasi was at 10:00 am on Saturday so she was up early to make sure she did not miss her flight. Travelling by bus was not an option because of the time constraints.
“I went to the airport at dawn, at Kotoka, to pick a flight to Kumasi. When I got there, they took my passport, checked and asked me whether I can climb stairs. I told them yes. they then asked me to sit and wait till 7:00 before we take off,” she recalled.
It was around the time for boarding when some other colleagues from the YALI programme joined her as they made their way to plane.
“When we got there they told me I can’t send my crutches inside the plane. I asked them why, they told me that the plane is small and that there is no space for my crutches, so I can only go inside and walk to where ever I would be seated.”
Despite the perceived callousness from the AWA staff, she tried to negotiate and have them aid her to her seat without the crutches, so the crutches could be kept elsewhere in the plane, but to no avail.
“They told me that my crutches cannot just be on the plane and that there are no aides allowed. That is what I was told. My friends wanted to talk to them but they were just refusing to talk to anyone. My agent also called to talk to them but they refused to talk to her. So at the end of the day, my three friends went on the plane, left to Kumasi and left me behind.”
Rita says she has not been refunded the money for the ticket and has not heard from the airline since the incident. This has just added up to her frustrations as a person living with a disability in Ghana.
“I don’t know the reason why I must be in my own country and I won’t have access to certain quick things which will make life very easy and comfortable for me as a citizen of Ghana. We are all human beings and at least, we should all be treated fairly. If I have my money and I want to board a plane to wherever I want to go to do a quick transaction and come back to wherever I stay, I think I have the right and I think I deserve that,” she said, holding back the tears.
“It is just sad to see such things happen and no one is there to talk about it. It is inhuman.”
Cut off from society
It is incidents like this that give persons with disabilities reasons to isolate themselves, Rita noted.
I know a lot of persons with a disability who have chosen not to go anywhere because they can’t stand it; to go somewhere and try to have access to something that is for all of you and you are being denied… I don’t know whether crutches are a bomb or something.”
In her experience to do things able-bodied persons do on a regular basis is a test of endurance.
“You have to be strong to move about in Ghana if only you want to go to places and do things like an [able bodied] Ghanaian. You have to just endure.”
It is for this reason that she hopes this incident will spark a turnaround in the way persons with disabilities are treated in Ghana to pave the way for some improved equality.
“Some of us can do stuff on our own if the environment is friendly enough. We don’t need aides to be helping us to stuff if the environment is friendly. What I want with this case is that I want it to be a breakthrough for us. We are tired. It is too much. The discrimination is just too much.”
Citi News has reached out to AWA for comment on the matter and the airline has said it will do so at a later date.
On the company’s website, it notes that, among other things, Customers with Disabilities are allowed Pre-boarding to find a suitable seat, though they are not allowed to sit at the emergency exit rows.
The airline also says it transports wheelchairs and other assistance devices for personal use at no charge, and offers enplaning and deplaning when the issue has been raised during ticket purchase.