A recent posting by Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on his official blog focused on the 25th anniversary of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) which supports equal access by disabled passengers on airlines.
The anniversary marks what has been a virtual revolution in travel for the disabled and warrants high praise for what the DOT, airlines and the travel industry have achieved. The ACAA and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened a new, often lucrative market for airlines, agents and destinations.
For example LaHood notes that 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.
In addition, he notes, airlines must provide passengers timely assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connections, and permit service animals to accompany passengers on flights.
"DOT understands that everyone deserves equal access to transportation, and we will continue to help make air travel – and all modes of transportation – accessible to all. We are committed to improving access for everyone to our transportation systems, and ensuring that all passengers receive the respect they deserve before, during and after their trips. One of the most effective tools for pursuing these goals is the Air Carrier Access Act, the landmark law that prohibits discrimination in air travel on the basis of disability." LaHood said.
The Air Carrier Access Act, enacted in 1986 and signed into law by President Reagan, is one of the most significant civil rights triumphs in our nation’s history, he noted. "Just 25 years ago, passengers with disabilities frequently suffered degrading and discriminatory treatment from airlines. Individuals were often required to travel with a companion--regardless of their physical ability--and too often carriers failed to provide even basic assistance, such as providing wheelchairs in a timely manner. In addition, policies often varied from airline to airline or even between flights on the same carrier."
Today, thanks to this act, air travelers can be assured of fair and equal treatment regardless of disability, LaHood notes. DOT’s rule implementing the ACAA, issued in 1990, sets out specific requirements to ensure equal access to to air travel And he notes, the DOT's commitment to equal access to air travel continues with additional measures planned.
The DOT 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 addition, DOT has taken other steps to make air travel easier for person with disabilities, including holding forums to ensure that air travelers with disabilities and airlines know their rights and responsibilities, and monitoring carrier compliance with the ACAA regulations and issuing fines when carriers fail to comply with the rules.
Travel agents and their clients can get information on the ACAA and the rights of air travelers with disabilities on DOT’s Aviation Enforcement website (http://airconsumer.dot.gov). Travelers with a disability who believes an airline is violating rights can filing a complaint at this site or through the DOT's toll-free disability hotline at 800-778-4838.