Para-athlete told to wait an hour to use the bathroom on Emirates flight

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A British para-athlete has detailed how she was stopped from going to the toilet on an Emirates flight. Nikki Emerson was flying to the Australian state of Queensland to compete in the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Ms Emerson is competing for England in the T54 1500m and T54 marathon events at the Games.

Ms Emerson told BBC Radio 5 live that airline staff told her she would have to wait up to an hour to use the toilet when the food and drink service came to an end. Then a staff member would assist her.

She decided to get down off her seat and make her own way. When she opened the door to go back to her seat she told BBC Radio 5, “there was an air stewardess waiting outside for me when I came out to tell me this wasn’t okay. ‘She said, ‘you can’t be on the floor, it’ll upset people, let me help you to walk’ and I said, ‘well I can’t walk at all’ and that obviously caused an issue. I think the stewardesses felt it would make people uncomfortable to see someone climbing on the floor. In my mind, the only reason that should make the other passengers uncomfortable is because it would show them that the airline that they are travelling with doesn’t have adequate provisions for disabled people, but I don’t know if that was what the air stewardess was concerned about. I don’t think it’s acceptable that I should have to go to the bathroom on someone else’s schedule. As a disabled person that travels a lot I’m relaxed about doing it. It looks quite shocking when people see it but for me it’s a way I can independently get myself somewhere when I don’t have my wheelchair.”

Ms Emerson also said, “This isn’t a one airline specific thing. Sometimes it is specific airports, so at Gatwick I’ve been told I need to hand over my passport to a complete stranger because some of the gates aren’t accessible. They get an assistant to take your passport and go and do some of the security protocol for you which sort of takes your independence away. I’m very independent – then when I travel someone takes my passport and I’m told I can’t get myself around the plane. All of a sudden it becomes quite different to the rest of my life – I don’t look forward to flying.”

Ms Emerson also added that a senior Emirates employee later apologised and said the airline would be investigating.

Theresa Sands co-CEO of People with Disability Australia told The New Daily, “We hear these stories regularly of this kind of discrimination. People with Disability is concerned that yet again we’re hearing of undignified and discriminatory treatment to a person with disability who is using an airline service. She’s [Ms Emerson] clearly been seen to be a disruption on the flight for wanting to do a basic thing like go to the toilet.”

The XXI Commonwealth Games are being held 4 April 2018 – 15 April 2018. The Games are held every 4 years and will see athletes and para-athletes from 71 countries competing. The Games are held every 4 years and involve countries that are part of the Commonwealth of Nations.

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