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AAPD Statement on Airline Accessibility

by | Oct 23, 2015 | Press Release

Earlier this week, disability advocate and former AAPD Summer Intern, D’Arcee Neal, was forced to crawl off a plane after the airline failed to provide an aisle chair or assistance for him to exit the aircraft (you can read the NBC4 Washington story here). Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence for many travelers with disabilities. In 2014, there were over 27,500 complaints filed with the Department of Transportation.

This problem of inaccessible air travel is not limited to just one airline or to wheelchair users. Very few airlines have captioning on their in-flight safety videos and usually none of the crew know American Sign Language, leaving deaf and hard of hearing individuals uninformed of safety procedures and potential emergency situations (not to mention that the in-flight entertainment is rarely captioned).

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), passed in 1986, prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. A few relevant provisions of the Act include:

  • Carriers may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of disability.
  • New aircraft (planes ordered after April 5, 1990 or delivered after April 5, 1992) with 30 or more seats must have movable aisle armrests on half the aisle seats in the aircraft.
  • Airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connections.
  • Carriers may not charge for providing accommodations required by the rule.
  • Training is required for carrier and contractor personnel who deal with the traveling public.

The Department of Transportation maintains a free hotline for travelers with disabilities by providing general information on passenger rights as well as assistance with issues that need to be addressed in real-time. The hotline can be accessed at 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY).

If you believe you have been subjected to discriminatory treatment by an airline that violates the guidelines of the ACAA you can submit a complaint to the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division through this web form.

“The ACAA has been a law on the books for nearly 30 years,” said Helena Berger, President and CEO of AAPD, “yet people with disabilities are still treated like second class citizens when traveling by plane. Airlines can and must to do better.”


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The American Association of People with Disabilities is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities.