Two blind women removed from cruise ship
Recently, two blind women from West Sussex were removed from a P&O cruise ship over health and safety concerns. The cruise departed from Southampton and the passengers said that the cruise line and London-based travel agency that booked the cruise for them were aware of their visual impairment and were promised accommodations aboard ship. Upon embarkation, the two women were given a letter citing health and safety concerns, asking them to disembark. Though information about the incident is limited, questions remain about the rights of the passengers, and how P&O handled the situation.
In 2015, U.S. Department of Justice reached a landmark settlement with Carnival Corp. ruling that the spaces aboard cruise ships are a public location and must comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for accessibility. This ruling means that all cruise ships that sail in U.S. waters must be compliant with the ADA and offer equal access for passengers. This ruling also extends to cruise ships that are foreign-flagged, meaning they don’t originate from the U.S.
The incident with the two blind women aboard the P&O ship, occurred last month and has sparked a debate about the rights of individuals with disabilities and the responsibilities of service providers. The UK and EU are behind the curve when it comes to accessibility rights for disables passengers, and I must wonder how this situation would have played out if it had been in the U.S. The ADA mandates for accessibility of course do not stretch internationally, and P&O is not a larger cruise line like Carnival and the like. Should the size of a corporation determine the level of accessibility offered to passengers? Just because P&O aren’t as big as Holland, Celebrity or Carnival, does that make it ok to turn away disabled passengers?
While the cruise line did opt to not offer the two blind women service, they did offer to pay for their travel expenses and offered them a full refund for their vacation booking. What if the situation included travelers who had journeyed from another country for the cruise? I’m wondering how I would react if I flew from the U.S. only to be turned away because my lack of sight was deemed a health and safety concern.
Cruise lines in compliance with the ADA make accessible accommodations for passengers with hearing and visual disabilities, not just those with mobility restrictions. Most cruise lines have braille signage and elevator buttons and offer familiarization tours of the vessels if requested. Norwegian provides a staff member for blind or low vision passengers to assist with their accessibility needs during the cruise. Holland America offers large print or Braille menus if they have advanced notice. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity both offer Qualified Readers to read written materials like menus and ship newsletters.
Guide Dogs, and other service dogs are welcome onboard major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Holland America and Carnival. Passengers should be aware that most cruise lines will not allow emotional support animals, therapy animals, companion animals or pets onboard. Service dogs must be up-to-date on vaccinations, and passengers are encouraged to bring their dog’s immunization records in case they’re required in a port of call for entry into that country. Many cruise lines require this documentation from passengers once they’re onboard. I always carry my guide’s vaccination records in a pouch on her harness wherever I go. My guide Fauna would never bite anyone, but having vaccination proof along with a card I can hand out to anyone who questions my rights for access has resoled many situations where restaurant staff were ill-informed about the laws surrounding legitimate service animals. In terms of access for cruise lines, each company has a different policy for service animals, and it’s best to contact them directly to make sure you know what to expect onboard.
Travel service providers are well within their right to determine what is best for their passenger’s safety, including limiting disabled people from sitting in exit rows on planes. While I can see that a disabled passenger’s needs for additional help may put other passengers or crew in harm’s way in the case of an emergency, does that mean travel service providers should have the right to turn away passengers because of a disability? All travel providers should be held to a minimum level of accommodation regardless of their country of origin or company size. Nobody should be excluded from participating in travel because of a disability.
Research and knowledge are key components when deciding on a destination and travel provider. Any time I travel internationally, I am acutely aware that regulations for disabled passengers are not the same as they are in the U.S., this is why I sometimes go to extreme lengths to learn as much as I can about available accommodations for my destination. Crowd sourcing your research is always a great option, ask on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms in disabled travelers’ groups about the experiences for a destination. If you don’t like what you are learning about a destination, then I suggest considering a different destination option if possible. In the case of the two women from West Sussex, it sounds as though the company they booked their vacation through assured them there would be no problem with their limited sight. If the cruise line had enough prior notice to type up a letter asking them to disembark, then they should have had enough notice to inform the women they were not welcome well before they left home.
As travelers, we have (often) many options when it comes to providers and destinations. If the location you are considering will not offer appropriate accommodations for your disability, it is totally fine to speak with your wallet and not book your vacation with that company. A smaller travel provider does not have to hire a disability coordinator liaison, they just need to be willing to take the necessary steps to make their services accessible to everyone. Sticking with larger cruise lines that sail in U.S. waters, as they have accommodations requirements for all passengers with disabilities can offer a level of assurance that your trip will be accessible at a base level.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever been denied service because of a disability? How did you handle the situation? I’d love to hear your stories. Feel free to connect with me on my social media link below.
If you would like to read more about the two women denied service with P&O, click the link below.
If you would like to read more about cruise lines accommodations offerings, click the link below.
If you would like to read more information about the landmark settlement with Carnival Corp, including a list of the changes implemented to comply with the ruling for Carnival and their affiliate brands, click the link below.
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About the author
Ted Tahquechi is a blind photographer, travel influencer, disability advocate and photo educator based in Denver, Colorado. You can see more of Ted’s work at www.tahquechi.com
Ted operates Blind Travels, a travel blog designed specifically to empower blind and visually impaired travelers. https://www.blindtravels.com/
Ted’s body-positive Landscapes of the Body project has been shown all over the world, learn more about this intriguing collection of photographic work at: https://www.bodyscapes.photography/
Questions or comments? Feel free to email Ted at: email@example.com