Society Participates in Negotiations to Improve Accessible Air Travel
October 3, 2016
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was passed by Congress and signed into law on October 2, 1986. This law guarantees that people with disabilities receive consistent and nondiscriminatory treatment during air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. Regulations were issued in 1990 implementing the law and required things like aircraft with more than one aisle to have an accessible lavatory; carriers to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities in enplaning, deplaning, making flight connections, and transporting between gates; and aircraft with more than 60 passenger seats with an accessible lavatory to also have an on-board wheelchair.
Despite progress, people with disabilities still encounter significant challenges when traveling by air—including inaccessible lavatories—particularly on single aisle aircraft, damage to wheelchairs and difficult transfers between aisle chairs or on-board wheelchairs and seats. In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation convened an Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation—or ACCESS Advisory Committee—to negotiate and try to develop a proposed rule concerning some continued challenges, specifically: whether new single aisle aircraft should be required to have an accessible lavatory, the definition of service animals and in-flight communications and entertainment.
The ACCESS Committee’s members include representatives from the disability community, airlines and aircraft manufacturers. The National MS Society participates in working groups discussing accessible lavatories and service animals, attends the monthly in-person ACCESS Committee meetings and is hopeful that this collaboration and related discussions will yield more accessible air travel for people with disabilities. The ACCESS Committee’s final in-person meeting will occur October 12-14, 2016—at which point it will be determined whether consensus in the negotiations has been achieved and next steps that the Department of Transportation will take in its rulemaking process.