Holiday drama for the disabled

By Joshua McKenzie-Brown

The holiday season is here! If you’re like me, you’re probably spending less time searching for bargains on TradeMe and more time looking at cheap airfares. We all like the idea of heading overseas for a tropical holiday, but for some getting away can be a real nightmare.

Holiday dramas disproportionately affect the disabled community. It starts when we arrive at the airport and the disabled parking is so far away you don’t even know what direction to walk in. 

Next challenge is at check in. Is our personal wheelchair coming with us or is the airline providing one. Where is it? Staff will then become confused about priority boarding. Is it the right move or should we be made to wait until everyone else has boarded? If things are really going your way there might even be an airport wheelchair waiting at your destination.

Why do most airport wheelchairs lack handrims (the metal circle outside the wheel we use to move ourselves forward and back)? Not being able to control your own movement is disempowering. After a while a staff member may remember you and push you to the baggage terminal. I’m not sure how you are supposed to grab a 30 kg suitcase off the carousel without dragging yourself and your chair onto the conveyor belt. Fellow passengers standing around are usually happy to help, but that’s not a guarantee. 


Holiday heartache

The news is littered with stories of disabled travellers being mistreated. 

November 2022 , Jetstar refused to give an aisle wheelchair to a disabled Australian woman. She was forced to crawl off the plane.

September 2022, Jetstar refused to check in a disabled child’s wheelchair. Without it he could not travel and the family were forced to cancel their holiday. 

May 2019,  a vision impaired woman travelling with an assistance dog was denied boarding on a Qantas flight. Despite assistance dogs being legally cleared to fly. 

August 2005, a disabled man was unable to transfer independently from his personal wheelchair to the aircraft’s aisle wheelchair. Jetstar staff failed to assist and subsequently left him at the airport, missing his flight. Not even a fellow passenger offered to help him. 

Once you get off the plane at your end destination the challenges don’t stop. Want to Uber to your accommodation? In 2022 the USA Department of Justice ordered Uber to pay millions of dollars in reparations to over 65,000 disabled customers who were forced to pay illegal additional fees due to disability. 

Travelling to attend an event? In 2018 an Australian woman with Cerebral Palsy was denied entry to a 21st party at a pub due to staff incorrectly assuming she was intoxicated due to her disability.


Help is at hand

Fortunately here in New Zealand there is a way to tackle these issues head on and it won’t cost you anything.  The answer is Auckland Disability Law (ADL). Cases like these are seen as an opportunity to address wrongdoing by large corporations against a vulnerable demographic and an opportunity to educate.  ADL’s free* service is available to all disabled New Zealanders to assist with disability related legal issues. Funded in part by the Ministry of Justice Community Law programme. 

*Disclaimer - ongoing legal aid cannot be guaranteed in every scenario 

What else can ADL do for you?

  • Provide legal information in alternative formats for those with communication challenges
  • Deal with disability discrimination across the board - employment, education, public      services etc 
  • Hospital treatment - are you receiving the treatment you are entitled to?
  • Are decisions being made on your behalf without your consent? 
  • Is your access to public places being restricted?
  • Housing and tenancy - Kainga Ora - is your house accessible or have you been allocated inaccessible government housing?
  • Debt and financial abuse - do you know someone with an intellectual disability who has been taken advantage of?
  • ADL cannot take on any case that is not directly associated with your disability. 



Meet the team

Geraldine (General Manager) has first hand experience of disability through her son, who has autism. 

Witnessing how a Ministry of Education funded teacher aide throughout his school years changed his life inspired Geraldine to work for ADL, where she has the opportunity to make a difference every day. 

For Senior Solicitor Fareena "It was the human rights opportunity that I was looking for - hard to find in Auckland. I have lived experience of disability. I have a better understanding as a result but at the same time also recognise that there is much to learn regarding human diversity and the disability sector."

Solicitor Adeleina says "As a Samoan woman from South Auckland, the reason I went into law was to help people from all backgrounds navigate complex legal systems and access justice." 

Solicitor Toby is passionate about human rights and being able to take on more impactful, value driven cases. 

Community Education Manager Anna was unavailable for comment but also has lived experience of disability.


09 257 5140 to arrange an appointment. or 027 457 5140 (text only).