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Disability advocate Shane Hryhorec says he had passport, wheelchair taken in Abu Dhabi airport 'ordeal'

By Daniel Keane
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Shane Hryhorec says he was frisked, told to get out of his chair and had his passport confiscated.(Supplied: Shane Hryhorec)

An Adelaide entrepreneur and disability advocate says he recently endured one of the "worst experiences" he has encountered during "15 years flying with a disability".

Shane Hryhorec, who runs disability equipment provider Push Mobility, said he had his passport confiscated and wheelchair seized at Abu Dhabi airport, after being forced to leave one of the chair's batteries behind in Germany.

The "ordeal" occurred when he was returning to Australia from Europe earlier this week.

"I travel a lot with my work and … I've had some pretty rough experiences before," he told ABC Radio Adelaide's Stacey Lee.

"But not once have I been to a location where the security — in this case the police who managed the security at the airport — have frisked me in a very forceful way and then taken me into a private room."

Mr Hryhorec said the journey had been distressing from the word go, when he boarded the Etihad Airways flight in Munich.

"Like most wheelchair users, I have a motor that helps me be independent and after I boarded the aircraft the cabin staff came on and said, 'Hey look, you've got too many batteries, one of them has to be left behind or you can't fly'," he said.

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Shane Hryhorec recounts his experience to ABC Radio Adelaide's Stacey Lee.

Thinking "things couldn't get any worse", Mr Hryhorec then had a further confrontation as he passed through security at Abu Dhabi International Airport that left him feeling "violated, upset" and "angry".

"They started frisking me without asking permission and then ushered me into a private room and told me to get out of my wheelchair and they needed to take it away for scanning, at which point I refused," he said.

"For me or any person with a disability, having your wheelchair taken away from you — you don't know if you're going to get it back."

Mr Hryhorec travelled from Munich to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.(Supplied: Shane Hryhorec)

'They thought I was a terrorist'

Mr Hryhorec said when he was told to move to an "office chair with a big hole in it and six little wheels", he feared injuring himself and demanded to speak to a manager.

"This ordeal went for quite some time — they confiscated my passport. The airport staff said if you don't follow along, they will most likely arrest you and things will get a lot worse," he said.

"I had no choice but to transfer into a seat and they took my chair away, they put it through X-ray machines and scanned it, and then finally they brought it back to me and I continued my journey.

"Obviously I was very shaken up — imagine travelling through a destination and having a disability and then getting arrested and getting sent to jail or whatever else."

Mr Hryhorec says the Abu Dhabi ordeal lasted "quite some time".(Supplied: Shane Hryhorec)

Abu Dhabi International Airport and Etihad Airways have been contacted for comment.

"In 15 years of flying I've never been told to get out of my wheelchair," Mr Hryhorec said.

"I felt like they thought I was a terrorist."

Mr Hryhorec says he has never before been asked to get out of his wheelchair while travelling by plane.(Supplied: Shane Hryhorec)

South Australian Human Services Minister Nat Cook described Mr Hryhorec's experience as "appalling" and said it highlighted the need for reform and greater awareness within the global airline industry.

"I'd love to try and connect up and see what we can do with our federal government in order to engage with aviation companies and global providers," she said.

"I get that there are various standards globally … but at least let's see if we can make this a bit of a starting point."

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