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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Takes Action to Make Websites and Kiosks Accessible to Air Travelers with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in its ongoing effort to ensure equal access to air transportation for all travelers, today proposed a regulation that would require airlines to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities and ensure that their ticket agents do the same.  DOT also proposed that airlines make automated airport kiosks at U.S. airports accessible to passengers with disabilities. U.S. airports that jointly own, lease or control such kiosks with airlines would also have responsibility for ensuring the accessibility of automated airport kiosks.
              
“I strongly believe that airline passengers with disabilities should have equal access to the same services as all other travelers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “The Department of Transportation is committed to ensuring that airline passengers are treated fairly, and today’s action is part of that effort.”

Under the proposed rule, airlines would be required to make their websites accessible to persons with disabilities over a two-year period.  Websites would be required to meet the standards for accessibility contained in the widely accepted Website Content Accessibility Guidelines.  The requirement would apply to U.S. and foreign carriers with websites marketing air transportation to U.S. consumers for travel within, to or from the United States.  Small ticket agents would be exempt from the requirement to have accessible websites.
              
In addition, airlines and airports that use automated kiosks for services such as printing boarding passes and baggage tags would have to ensure that any kiosk ordered 60 days after the rule takes effect is accessible.  Standards for accessibility would be based on standards for automated transaction machines set by the Department of Justice in its 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act rule.  This requirement would apply to U.S. and foreign carriers and U.S. airports that own, lease or control automated airport kiosks at U.S. airports with 10,000 or more annual boardings.  The proposal asks for comment on the cost and feasibility of retrofitting existing kiosks to make them accessible.

This proposal is the latest in a series of DOT rulemakings to implement the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).  In the ACAA rule issued in May 2008, DOT required carriers, among other things, to make discounts available to passengers with disabilities who cannot use inaccessible web sites and therefore must make telephone or in-person reservations. Also, if passengers with disabilities are unable to use the kiosk because it is not accessible, carriers are required to provide equivalent service, such as having an airline employee assist in operating the kiosk.  However, these provisions do not give passengers with disabilities, especially those with visual and mobility impairments, independent access to the websites and kiosks, and in this final rule the Department committed to exploring how to make websites and kiosks accessible.
              
Comments on the proposal are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register. In addition, the Department has partnered with Cornell University’s eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI), Regulation Room, designed to improve the public’s ability to understand and participate in this rulemaking process. A goal of the CeRI team is to make Regulation Room as accessible to as many users as possible.  This partnership supports President Obama’s open-government initiative.  People wanting to discuss and learn about this proposed rule should go to www.regulationroom.org.

Monday, September 19, 2011