A law signed by President Ronald Reagan to prohibit discrimination for individuals with disabilities while traveling by air celebrated its 27th anniversary on October 2, 2013.
The Air Carrier Access Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in 1986, guaranteed that people with disabilities would receive consistent and nondiscriminatory treatment during air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities.
Paralyzed Veterans of America was instrumental in lobbying for and helping craft the law to help people with disabilities have equal access to fly on airplanes, particularly before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Before passage of the ACAA, passengers with disabilities were faced with policies that varied from airline to airline, or even among flights on the same carrier. They often were required to travel with a companion, and carriers frequently failed to perform tasks such as providing wheelchairs in a timely manner.
Since implementation of the law by the Transportation Department in 1990, air travel for people with disabilities has improved significantly. Airlines may not refuse transportation to anyone on the basis of disability for any reason not related to safety, or require advance notice that a person with disabilities is traveling. Most new aircraft also are equipped with more accessible lavatories, priority space for storing wheelchairs and the ability to house service animals on flights.
Paralyzed Veterans of America also has worked over the years to ensure that airport and airline staff is appropriately trained on how to best transfer a mobility-challenged person on and off an airplane. Under a partnership with AirServ, Paralyzed Veterans helps train airline staff by allowing them to work directly with people in wheelchairs.
“There’s always more and better access needed,” said Lee Page, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “One of the things we find to sometimes be a hindrance is getting on and off the plane in a timely manner and making sure that equipment is being stowed in the proper fashion to ensure it’s not damaged when we get to our destination.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s advocacy for all people with disabilities
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.