ADA’s 26th Anniversarya moment of recognition & of recommitment to its principles

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Americans With Disabilities Act

Secretary Foxx issued a statement on this important anniversary and he was quoted as saying, “The heart of the Americans with Disabilities Act is access to transportation.”

ada anniversary

Bryna Helfer
, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Engagement and Senior Advisor for Accessibility and Workforce Development, added the following cogent remarks relevant to air transportation:

“Oada anniversaryver the past year, we’ve improved accessibility at our nation’s airports by requiring relief areas for service animals in each terminal and for airports and carriers to work together to provide lifts if accessible boarding bridges for passengers are not av
. Airports are also now required to have high-contrast captioning on televisions and audio-visual displays.

Under Secretary Foxx’s leadership, we’re also working to make it easier for individuals to submit their concerns to DOT about accessibility on sidewalks, buses, trains, and planes.”

[emphasis added]

In a bipartisan spirit, the DoT included a video of past Secretary Skinner (1989-1991) explaining the significance of the ADA’s passage:

The ADA established the broad directions from Congress to a number of Executive Branch organizations, including the DoT; so it is useful to read a summary of the obligations as applied to air transportation. A second bill the Air Carrier Access Act added specific instructions as to airlines. Here are the 14 CFR Part 382 requirements, as described by the DoT Consumer Affairs office, for airlines and OEMs:

ada anniversary

Prohibition of Discriminatory Practices

  • Airlines may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of disability. Airlines may exclude anyone from a flight if carrying the person would be inimical to the safety of the flight. If a carrier excludes a person with a disability on safety grounds, the carrier must provide a written explanation of the decision.
  • Airlines may not require advance notice that a person with a disability is traveling. Air carriers may require up to 48 hours’ advance notice for certain accommodations that require preparation time (e.g., respirator hook-up, transportation of an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with less than 60 seats).
  • Airlines may not limit the number of persons with disabilities on a flight.
  • Airlines may not require a person with a disability to travel with another person, except in certain limited circumstances where the rule permits the airline to require a safety assistant. If a passenger with a disability and the airline disagree about the need for a safety assistant, the airline can require the assistant, but cannot charge for the transportation of the assistant.
  • Airlines may not keep anyone out of a specific seat on the basis of disability, or require anyone to sit in a particular seat on the basis of disability, except to comply with FAA or foreign-government safety requirements. FAA’s rule on exit row seating says that airlines may place in exit rows only persons who can perform a series of functions necessary in an emergency evacuation.


Accessibility of Facilities

  • New aircraft[1] with 30 or more seats must have movable aisle armrests on half the aisle seats in the aircraft.

ada anniversary

  • New twin-aisle aircraft must have accessible lavatories.

ada anniversary

  • New aircraft with 100 or more seats must have priority space for storing a passenger’s folding wheelchair in the cabin.
  • Aircraft with more than 60 seats and an accessible lavatory must have an on-board wheelchair, regardless of when the aircraft was ordered or delivered. For flights on aircraft with more than 60 seats that do not have an accessible lavatory, airlines must place an on-board wheelchair on the flight if a passenger with a disability gives the airline 48 hours’ notice that he or she can use an inaccessible lavatory but needs an on-board wheelchair to reach the lavatory.
  • Airlines must ensure that airport facilities and services that they own, lease or control are accessible in the manner prescribed in the rule.


Other Services and Accommodations

  • ada anniversaryAirlines are required to provide assis­tance with boarding, deplaning and making connections. Assistance within the cabin is also required, but not extensive personal services. Where level-entry boarding is not available, there must be ramps or mechanical lifts to service most aircraft with 19 or more seats at U.S. airports with over 10,000 annual enplanements.
  • Disabled passengers’ items stored in the cabin must conform to FAA rules on the stowage of carry-on baggage. Assistive devices do not count against any limit on the number of pieces of carry-on baggage. Collapsible wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority for in-cabin storage space (including in closets) over other passengers’ items brought on board at the same airport, if the passenger with a disability chooses to preboard.
  • Wheelchairs and other assistive devices have priority over other items for storage in the baggage compartment.
  • Airlines must accept battery-powered wheelchairs, including the batteries, packaging the batteries in hazardous materials packages when necessary. The airline provides the packaging.
  • Airlines must permit a passenger to use his/her Portable Oxygen Concentrator during the flight if it is labeled as FAA-approved.
  • Airlines may not charge for providing accommodations required by the rule, such as hazardous materials packaging for batteries. However, they may charge for optional services such as providing oxygen.
  • Other provisions concerning services and accommodations address treatment of mobility aids and assistive devices, passenger information, accommodations for persons with vision and hearing impairments, security screening, communicable diseases and medical certificates, and service animals.


Administrative Provisions

  • Training is required for airline and contractor personnel who deal with the traveling public.
  • Airlines must make available specially-trained “complaints resolution officials” to respond to complaints from passengers and must also respond to written complaints. A DOT enforcement mechanism is also available.
  • Airlines must obtain an assurance of compliance from contractors who provide services to passengers.
  • You may obtain an accessible electronic copy of 14 CFR Part 382 or this fact sheet at or call DOT at 202-366-2220 to request a copy.

[emphasis added]


The DoT’s General Counsel’s has taken many (>40) public (i.e. embarrassing) and expensive (6 figure civil penalties) actions against the airlines [foreign and domestic, large and regional and even low cost], for violations of Part 382.

Hopefully, airlines will not set their goals to just meet these rules. Instead, management should view these passengers with the same sense of SERVICE that is the standard for all consumers. Their marketing departments spend millions trying to understand the needs/demands of the general traveling public (as well as important segments thereof); it would seem fair and right to approach the needs of their ADA customers with the same highest  level of care.


[1]“New aircraft” requirements apply to U.S. airlines with respect to planes ordered after April 5, 1990 or delivered after April 5, 1992. In general they apply to foreign carriers with respect to aircraft ordered after May 13, 2009 or delivered after May 13, 2010. No retrofit is required (although compliance with on-board wheelchair requirements became mandatory for U.S. airlines on April 5, 1992 regardless of the plane’s age). If older planes are refurbished, accessibility features (e.g., movable armrests) must be added.

FAST LANE: 26th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
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