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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

An Update from the Transportation Subcommittee: Disability Provisions Included in FAA Reauthorization!

On October 5, 2018, the President signed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 – H.R. 302 (PDF) into law. This bill reauthorizes the FAA and other programs through 2023, and we are thrilled to report that the final bill includes several important disability provisions NCIL and other disability rights groups have been advocating for. The inclusion of these provisions is a huge win!

NCIL logo - National Council on Independent LivingOne exciting provision in the new law is the establishment of an Advisory Committee on the air travel needs of passengers with disabilities. The Advisory Committee will be established to assess and address barriers in the air travel experience. This Committee will be comprised of people with disabilities, national disability organizations, aviation industry employees, wheelchair manufacturers, and national veteran’s organizations representing disabled veterans, and we are excited for this work to get started.

Additionally, the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with stakeholders (including disability organizations), is required to design an “Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights” that describes the basic protections and responsibilities of covered air carriers, their employees and contractors, and people with disabilities using plain language. This Bill of Rights must minimally address the right of passengers with disabilities to be treated with respect, receive timely assistance, travel with assistive devices, receive accommodations, and file complaints. 

Importantly, the new law also requires a revision to Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer training requirements, aiming to improve TSA screenings in collaboration with disability and veterans organizations. Additionally, TSA will be responsible for recording and identifying frequent complaints and accommodations requested, which will be used to determine best practices and recommend trainings.

The new law includes some other important disability-related requirements as well, including a study on the feasibility of in-cabin wheelchair restraint systems and subsequent accommodations, a study to review airport accessibility best practices, and a review of practices for ticketing, pre-flight seat assignments, and stowing of assistive devices for disabled passengers. The new law also increases penalties for bodily harm or damage to wheelchairs or other mobility devices, requires that a report be written on the availability of lavatories on commercial aircraft, which must include the ability of disabled passengers to access them, and includes a “Sense of Congress” that the aviation industry and stakeholders have to work to ensure disabled people have equal access to air travel.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 holds a great deal of promise for equal access, accommodations, and accountability to disabled airline passengers, and we are grateful to the disability advocates and the champions in Congress who worked hard to ensure these provisions ended up in the final bill!