Representatives of the aviation industry, advocates for persons with disabilities, and current and former government officials came together today at U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) – the landmark law that banned discrimination in air travel on the basis of disability. This celebration was hosted jointly by the DOT, the Air Transport Association and the National Council on Disability (NCD).
“The Air Carrier Access Act ranks among the most significant civil rights triumphs in our nation’s history,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “Unlike 25 years ago, when passengers with disabilities frequently suffered degrading and discriminatory treatment from airlines, today air travelers can be assured of fair and equal treatment regardless of disability.”
Among the distinguished guests participating in the celebration were former U.S. Transportation Secretary and Congressman Norman Y. Mineta, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy Kareem Dale and NCD Chairman Jonathan Young. During the celebration, Mineta and former Senator Bob Dole, both of whom were sponsors of the ACAA when it was first introduced in Congress, received lifetime achievement awards. John Kemp, a well-known disability rights advocate, accepted the award on behalf of Dole, who was unable to attend, and recounted Dole’s efforts to expand accessibility for all persons with disabilities.
Before the ACAA was enacted in 1986, passengers with disabilities were faced with policies that varied from airline to airline or even among flights on the same carrier. They were often required to travel with a companion, regardless of their physical ability, and carriers frequently failed to provide them with assistance, such as providing wheelchairs in a timely manner.
Since DOT issued its rule implementing the ACAA in 1990, air travel for people with disabilities has improved dramatically. The rule sets out specific requirements to ensure equal access to air transportation. For instance, airlines may not refuse transportation to anyone on the basis of disability for any reason not related to safety or, with a few limited exceptions, require advance notice that a person with disabilities is traveling. Most new aircraft are required to be built with the needs of disabled travelers in mind, and as a result more aircraft have accessible lavatories, priority space for storing a passenger’s folding wheelchair, and moveable aisle armrests. Airlines must provide passengers timely assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connections, and permit service animals to accompany passengers on flights.
DOT is planning additional measures to ensure equal treatment for disabled passengers. The Department recently asked for public comment on a proposal to require carriers to make their web sites and self-service kiosks accessible to people with disabilities. In early 2012, the Department expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking asking for public comment on a number of other issues affecting passengers with disabilities, including accessibility of in-flight entertainment systems, carrier-supplied in-flight medical oxygen, service animals, and accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft.
In addition to rulemaking, the Department has taken other steps to make air travel easier for person with disabilities. It has held a number of forums to ensure that air travelers with disabilities and airlines know their rights and responsibilities. The Department also closely monitors carrier compliance with the ACAA regulations and has issued fines when carriers fail to comply with the rules. Also, the Department has published helpful information on the ACAA and the rights of disabled air travelers.Travelers with disabilities who believe airlines are violating their rights may file a complaint through the Department’s toll-free disability hotline at 800-778-4838.
The event can be viewed on the Internet at http://mediasite.yorkcast.com/webcast/Viewer/?peid=6ff14f133f234a7da38e88177f2ec1581d.