Q: I have a son who had a surf accident and has a spinal injury. In our country, there are no facilities or laws for handicapped. He would like to travel more, but we do not know what are the international laws that the airlines must comply with?
Thank you very much,
A: Great question, Maria — one that can shed light not only on Uruguay’s laws but also on those of other countries struggling with civil rights for people with disabilities.
But let’s start with Uruguay itself, which in March 2010, passed comprehensive disability legislation called the Statute for the Integral Protection of Disabled People:
“[It] establishes a complex obligation on the Uruguayan state, counties and public and private companies regarding the protection of disabled persons, persons with limited mobility and wheelchair users,” says Juan Manuel Rey, a lawyer from the firm Guyer & Regules in Montevideo. Mr. Rey and his colleague Carlos Brandes graciously provided New Mobility with both translation and interpretation of the original Spanish-language legislation.
Under Section 82 of the Statute, the Uruguayan government agreed to phase in a number of improvements to the country’s transportation systems, which should make all forms of public transportation accessible by 2014. Specific requirements include:
• Airplane passengers with disabilities are to be given priority seating near the doors.
• Airports must be equipped with elevators and accessible washrooms.
• All public ground transportation and public parking must be free to citizens with disabilities.
And Uruguay’s national airline, PLUNA, does welcome passengers with disabilities, according to a customer service spokesperson. Though PLUNA has no publicly published policy on accessibility accommodations, they do invite guests to send specific disability-related concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. Passengers requiring assistance should make reservations at least three days in advance and should also be sure to specify their individual needs. Upon request, a PLUNA representative will bring an airline wheelchair to the check-in desk and accompany the passenger with the disability to the plane. Those who prefer to remain in their personal wheelchairs while in the airport may check them directly at the gate. PLUNA airliners also come equipped with onboard wheelchairs (aisle chairs) to assist those who are unable to walk to and from their seats. All assistance is complimentary with each ticket purchased. PLUNA carries passengers’ personal wheelchairs and other approved medical devices at no extra charge.
Globally, Uruguay’s government is also among 149 signatories and 101 ratifiers of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, an international treaty that guarantees universal rights, including the right to freedom of movement and to accessible public transportation. Uruguay and the other countries that ratified the convention are legally required to harmonize their local laws into accordance with the treaty and to send developmental progress reports to the UN every four years. So other travelers from other countries are encouraged to check the UN website and to hold their legislators accountable for progress.