I’m well aware that there is tremendous variation in the civil rights of people with disabilities from country to country. But I was very surprised to learn yesterday that there is a restriction in the U.K. that would probably prevent me from participating in an oceanographic research cruise on some U.K. research vessels. I was having a conversation with one of the marine techs on board the Knorr about a new U.S. research vessel that is just now being completed and starting its sea trials. During the design phase, some accommodations for people with disabilities were included. I’m aware of these accommodations because I was part of a committee several years backthat was charged by the national agency that operates all the academic research vessles in the U.S. to come up with recommendations for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance in the design and refit of our research vessel fleet.
A post-doc from the U.K. overheard our conversation and remarked with surprise about this new feature of an oceanoagraphic research vessel. She reported that anyone who wants to sail on a research cruise on someU.K. vessels has to pass a pretty stringent medical exam (called the ENG1). She knew of a case 6 or 7 years ago of a colleague who is deaf that was not allowed to sail. There was apparently concern that he would not be able to hear the “general alarm”, the equivalent of a fire alarm bell. She went on to explain that some efforts were made to quickly find a solution, such as a vibrating unit for under his pillow, but time ran out before anything could be put in place. So he was not allowed to participate.
This struck me as old thinking. If someone who is blind or deaf can get out of a school, apartment or office building in an emergency, they are certainly capable of doing the same on a ship. People with disabilities travel on cruise ships and ferries all the time. As long as the research cruise participant can carry out the work they need to do (perhaps with accommodations as well, such as in my case, where I need an accessible computer and a sighted guide at sea), they shouldn’t be excluded from participating based on their disability.
I have been fortunate in that never has anyone told me that there is something I can’t do or somewhere I can’t go because I’m visually impaired. This story about the U.K. restrictions hit pretty close to home, perhaps because it involves my own profession as carried out in another developed country, where I would have thought there would be more progressive thinking. I hope that the U.K. medical system has been, or will soon be, updated to reflect up-to-date ideas about inclusion of people with disabilities in research work at sea.