Last week the Department of Transportation issued new rules to ensure equal access for all airline passengers with disabilities. It is part of the Department’s continued implementation of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. The new rules focus on two main areas of service – airline websites and kiosks.
Airlines are now required to have both their websites and automated airport kiosks accessible to passengers with disabilities. The Department is also allowing airlines to “choose between stowing wheelchairs in a cabin compartment on new aircraft or strapping them to a row of seats”. This option allows the airline to transport 2 manual folding wheelchairs at the same time.
Kiosks sold in the US must conform to specific physical standards, as set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Act indicates specific requirements for kiosk designs to ensure that they are accessible by all users. In addition to this, the Department of Transportation rules now state the following for airline kiosks, which are usually used for printing boarding passes and baggage tags:
• At least 25% of all kiosks at each airport location must be accessible to passengers with disabilities within 10 years even if no new kiosks are installed.
• Airlines must adhere to the accessibility standards as set forth by the US Department of Justice for ATM and fare machines in the 2010 ADA rule as well as the Section 508 standards for self-contained closed products.
The rule also sets detailed guidelines for airline website requirements and the transportation of wheelchairs on airplanes.
Since the announcement there has been disappointment expressed by The National Federation of the Blind, due to the length of time the DOT is giving airlines to implement all changes. The Federation’s President, Dr. Marc Maurer, pointed out that they expected the rule to be stronger instead of providing a seemingly lax timeframe for implementation. He stated that it allows “…ten more years of discrimination and ten more years of missed opportunities for innovators.” The Federation is hoping that the Department will review and amend the rule to reflect its commitment to equal access for disabled travelers.
Additional information on the new rules is available at http://www.dot.gov/briefing-room/new-dot-rules-make-flying-easier-passengers-disabilities