U.S. Department of Transportation Issues New Accessibility Rules for Airlines and Airports, by Melanie Brunson

In November 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued new rules aimed at addressing some of the challenges people with disabilities face when they want to travel by air.  Here are some of the highlights.  First, the new rules give both U.S. and foreign airlines that do business in this country two years to make the pages of their web sites that contain core travel information and services accessible to people with disabilities.  All of the pages on airline web sites must be made accessible within three years.  In addition, beginning two years after this rule goes into effect, any new automated kiosks purchased by airlines and installed at U.S. airports for passengers to use to perform services such as printing boarding passes and baggage tags must be  accessible to passengers with disabilities.  Within 10 years, at least 25 percent of all kiosks at each airport location must be accessible.  The rule also requires that airlines and airports provide a means for passengers who need to use accessible kiosks to clearly determine which kiosks are the accessible ones.  Accessible kiosks must perform all of the functions that the inaccessible ones perform so that passengers who have disabilities can have the same experience that other passengers have.
 
Finally, the new rules require that if an airline offers special discounts or promotions online, they must offer the same items to individuals who contact them in person or by telephone and indicate that they cannot use the airline's web site because of their disability.  A few airlines whose tickets are sold by a small business that is independent of the airline itself are exempt from this requirement, but it applies to all other airlines that do business in this country and operate planes that seat more than 60 passengers.  This portion of the rule is effective immediately.
 
These rules are the latest in a series of amendments implementing the Air Carrier Access Act. We appreciate the fact that the Department of Transportation has finally begun to address some of the challenges that people who have disabilities face before, during, and after air travel, but we are disappointed by the absence of urgency represented by the timelines associated with their requirements.  The timelines for provision of accessible kiosks in airports are especially unfortunate given the proliferation of such kiosks and the accompanying reduction in opportunities for passengers to receive assistance from airline personnel.  Since airlines have been aware of the need for accessible kiosks for more than 10 years already, and virtually no progress has been made to address the issue, it seems that giving them 10 more years to do so is a bit unnecessary.  The rules make it clear that technology currently exists which can be incorporated into the kiosks used in airports that will make them accessible to and independently usable by people with visual and other disabilities.  We had hoped that there would therefore be more urgency behind the requirements that this technology be utilized to equalize the travel experience for passengers with disabilities.
 
If readers are interested in more information about these rules, it can be found online at
www.dot.gov/briefing-room/new-dot-rules-make-flying-easier-passengers-disabilities.
 
As always, you can also contact the ACB national office with any questions, and we will try our best to answer them.