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Health

10-Year-Old Boy Had to 'Prove Disability' Before a Flight


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Stigma and discrimination are still daily realities for people with disabilities all over the world, as the Johnson family’s experience helps demonstrate. But until everyone is actively working to break the stigma, we won’t be able to drive change. You can take action here to support the UN’s Global Goals, which call for equal rights for everyone, regardless of disability, age, race, gender, ethnicity, or any other status.

A 10-year-old boy who uses a mobility scooter was asked to prove he has a disability, according to his mother. 

Alex Johnson, whose son Jack has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, wrote a blog post detailing how her son was treated “inhumanely” before boarding a Jet2 flight from Croatia to Leeds-Bradford Airport. 

The family, from Wigan, Greater Manchester, were at Split Airport on Tuesday when an airline administrative error almost prevented them getting their flight and “humiliated” Jack, reported the BBC

Johnson and her husband Andy, who previously played for the rugby league team Wigan Warriors, have set up a charity called Joining Jack, which funds research into a cure for the condition. Johnson published her account of what happened on the charity’s website

“As a family we need and love our holidays because of the underlying heartbreak we live with every day as we watch our son’s muscles waste away,” she wrote. “Eventually it will be impossible for us to take Jack on holiday and make the precious memories we cherish with him.”

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But the holiday was “ruined” by their experience on the return flight.  

While there was no issue on the outbound flight, she said, staff at Split Airport didn't seem to have a record of Jack’s disability. 

Johnson said in her post that from what she could see on the airline’s website, her family “did everything we should have done” to prepare the airline and inform them about Jack being on the flight, including calling the airline’s disability assistance line as soon as they booked, explaining about Jack’s condition, and giving the details about the disability scooter he uses.  

“I didn’t want us to run into any problems as Jack hates people staring and attention being drawn to him,” she wrote. “It’s hard for him being a kid that is different.

“When we arrived at Split airport and attempted to check in, we were told by a clearly stressed check-in desk operative that they had no records of Jack, his disability, or his requirements,” she continued. 

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“The operative then informed us that two days’ notice is required to be able to put a motorised wheelchair or scooter on the aircraft and that we might not be able to fly,” she wrote.

“By this time the packed departures area was getting busier and people were getting frustrated with waiting,” she said. “We felt as though we were a huge burden.” 

According to Johnson, they were then asked for proof that her son has a disability. 

“I didn’t know whether to be sarcastic and say, ‘No, he loves to ride a disability scooter and pretends to be disabled for fun,’ or to cry and shout he has a bloody terminal muscle-wasting condition,” she wrote. 

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“The only reason I kept my cool was that I could see the embarrassment and anxiety rising in Jack,” she said. “The indignity of the situation was awful.” 

Johnson described how they “painfully” had to talk about the full extent of Jack’s condition in front of him, and show his blue badge to prove his disability. 

“As a mother, my job is to protect and nurture my child,” she wrote. “Yesterday, I had to stand by and watch as he was completely humiliated. You have left him demoralised.

“I want lessons to be learned and all staff to get training to ensure this never happens again to another disabled person,” she said. “They should be treated with dignity.” 

A spokesperson for Jet2 said the firm was “extremely sorry” for the “distressing experience.” 

“Although this is an isolated incident, we have learnt a number of lessons and we are urgently reviewing all our procedures to ensure that this does not happen again,” they said.