WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today announced that its negotiated rulemaking committee, the ACCESS Advisory Committee, has reached an important agreement to improve the accessibility of lavatories on single-aisle aircraft and of in-flight entertainment. The ACCESS Advisory Committee, which was established to develop a proposed rule concerning accommodations for air travelers with disabilities, included a DOT official and representatives of airlines, persons with disabilities, flight attendants, aircraft manufacturers, motion picture studios, and other interested parties.
“The agreement reached by the ACCESS Advisory Committee is an important step towards ensuring that air travelers with disabilities have equal access to air transportation. It is unfair to expect individuals with limited mobility to refrain from using the restroom when they fly on single aisle aircraft, particularly since single aisle aircraft are increasingly used for longer flights. It is also unfair for passengers who are deaf or blind not to be able to enjoy the same entertainment that is available to other passengers. I’m pleased that all involved parties are working together towards our common goal of universal access to the air transportation system. We are committed to issuing a rulemaking to implement this agreement,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
The agreement reached by the ACCESS Advisory Committee has the potential to greatly improve the flying experience of individuals with disabilities. Today, passengers who use wheelchairs cannot access a lavatory on single aisle aircraft and often must avoid flying or dehydrate themselves to avoid having to relieve themselves during flight. Under the agreement, there would be short term and long term measures taken to fully address the challenges persons with mobility impairments face when traveling on single aisle aircraft with inaccessible lavatories, eventually resulting in accessible lavatories in the future for individuals who use wheelchairs.
Also, airlines today generally do not provide in-flight entertainment with captioning or audio descriptions. Under this agreement, certain movies and shows displayed on such aircraft would be captioned to provide access to deaf and hard of hearing passengers. In addition, audio described entertainment would be available to enable people who are blind to listen to the visual narration of movies and shows. Airlines would be permitted to display content that is not closed captioned or audio-described only if non-captioned or described versions are not available from the airline’s content provider.
Under the ACCESS Advisory Committee agreement, the size of the lavatory on single aisle aircraft would not change in the short term. Rather, airlines would be required to take a number of steps to improve the accessibility of these lavatories short of increasing their size three years after the effective date of the final rule. In addition, the ACCESS Advisory Committee agreed that the Department should develop improved safety and maneuverability standards for the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair. In the long term, the ACCESS Advisory Committee has reached a consensus to require airlines to provide an accessible lavatory, equivalent to that currently found on twin-aisle aircraft, on single-aisle aircraft with more than 125 passenger seats.
With regard to in-flight entertainment, in addition to an agreement that movies and shows that have been produced more than nine months after the effective date of the final rule would be covered, the ACCESS Advisory Committee established deadlines for airlines to ensure that any new seatback in-flight entertainment systems installed on new or existing aircraft are accessible. On aircraft that have inaccessible seatback IFE systems, airlines agreed to provide comparable entertainment through our means such as through an airline or passenger supplied personal electronic device. The Committee also agreed that two independent task forces will work to develop and submit to DOT recommendations on accessible user interface on seatback displays and accessible in-cabin announcements.
The ACCESS Advisory Committee was able to reach consensus on accessibility of lavatories on single-aisle aircraft and in-flight entertainment – issues that had been unresolved for decades – after seven months of negotiations. The Department plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking based on this agreement in July 2017. The Committee was not able to reach agreement on service animals, the other issue that it had been charged with negotiating. The Department intends to draft its own rules on service animals.
Additional information on the Department’s commitment to providing passengers with disabilities with equal access to air transportation can be found here.