A decision by Qantas to refuse access to a woman with her disability support dog has been labelled ‘unfair’, despite the airline claiming the animal did not meet strict training requirements.
The decision was made despite the current Federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 containing no requirement for special accreditation for assistance animals, meaning that technically, anyone can claim their dog is a protected assistance animal.
Author Fiona Wright was recently scheduled to fly to Alice Springs for the Northern Territory Writer’s Festival, but Qantas wouldn’t let her fly with her assistance dog Virginia, who helps her with her mental health conditions including anxiety.
Wright told ABC News that she spent seven weeks providing documentation to prove her support dog was appropriately trained, qualified and was required for her to manage her disability while flying, and believes she was discriminated against on the basis of disability.
“It’s hard for me to actually know why I wasn’t allowed on the flight because Qantas asked me to fill in a great deal of paperwork,” she told the ABC.
“The reasoning is very vague.
“They have just said that I didn’t prove the dog was an assistance dog but they haven’t let me know exactly what they require that would be proof.
“They also asked me to give quite specific information about my disability and what the dog has been trained to do, which I’m not 100 per cent certain is legal.”
Qantas said dog didn’t meet standards
A Qantas spokesman told the ABC that the airline is bound by federal legislation including CASA regulations to ensure all service dogs travelling in the cabin of aircraft meet training standards.
“We’ve been working with her for several weeks to explain Qantas’ requirements, including the requirements we need to ensure that the dog is trained appropriately to travel inside the cabin,” the spokesman said.
“Unfortunately in this case, on the information provided, Qantas could not be satisfied that mindDog training met the training standards required.
“Qantas has successfully worked with dozens of other training providers to ensure their standards met Qantas’ obligations under legislation and CASA regulations.”
No requirement for accreditation
A few years ago, the Federal Circuit Court ruled in favour of cerebral palsy sufferer David Milligan, who is also hearing and sight impaired, after his guide dog was refused travel on a Virgin Australia flight.
The court found that although different state and territories have specific rules around the accreditation of assistance animals, the Federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 does not contain any such requirement, and it overrides any state or territory laws.
More clarification needed
Industrial relations advocate Miles Heffernan said it was vital assistance dogs were allowed access to public places, including buildings and modes of transport.
“The Disability Discrimination Act is pretty clear, it is unlawful to refuse entry to a disabled person and their assistance animal, whether they are entering a public building like a hospital, or catching a taxi or an Uber,” he said.
“Perhaps there could be some more clarification around what qualifies a dog as a legitimate assistance animal.”
Cath Phillips, the head of the mindDog organisation that trained Ms Wright’s dog, said the decision by Qantas was unfair.
“Qantas won’t fly mindDogs although all of the other airlines do … Virgin, Jetstar, and so far all international airlines that have been asked carry our dogs with no problems,” Ms Phillips said.
“Because we have psychiatric assistance dogs that already belong to their handlers, we believe their training and development requires a different model, one which doesn’t naturally fit with existing bureaucracies.
“We absolutely stand behind our clients and their dogs.”
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