NEW MOBILITY asked Kleo King, senior vice president of Accessibility Services and Able to Travel for United Spinal Association, to share her experience on the Air Carrier Access Act, the Transportation Security Administration, and airline accessibility.
NM: There have been some high-profile instances of disability discrimination in the media recently. Is it getting worse or are these isolated incidents?
KK: I think it’s getting worse. When the Air Carrier Access Act was passed in 1986, things were progressively getting better, then it plateaued, and now we’re getting more complaints again.
NM: How important is it to complain?
KK: DOT must investigate all complaints — the more they receive, the more likely DOT initiates an action against the airline. Usually DOT fines the airlines a large amount, but it will also take a lesser amount and have the airline put the rest into a training program [See News, “US Airways Fined $1.2 Million”]. In the past, airlines sought out training from disability groups, but now they do everything in-house. But are they really doing the training, and are they following up when incidents occur?
NM: How much compensation may the passenger receive?
KK: No compensation, since they can’t sue in court. Of course, if someone got dropped and broke their leg, that’s a personal injury matter, whether they have a disability or not. The ACAA was passed in ’86, so when ADA came along in ’90, it excluded airlines. Airports are covered, so the airport itself has to comply with ADA requirements, but the services of the airlines are covered by the ACAA.
NM: United Spinal is now training TSA agents. How did that come about?
KK: About a year ago TSA came to us as well as other nonprofits around the nation to say they want to train all their employees on how to interact with people with disabilities going through security, with managers getting a higher level of training so they are a little bit more in tune to the needs of people with all types of disabilities.
NM: What changes would you most like to see?
KK: Real accessible restrooms on the new large-body aircraft. Also, a plane designed so it’s more user-friendly for everybody. Revisit storage, too. Planes have to have storage area on board for a folding, collapsible wheelchair, but most people don’t use folding chairs anymore. [And now that they’re going to have wifi on aircraft, there is no excuse for not being able to communicate with a person with a disability. If it’s announced verbally, it ought to be shown on a display, too. Then if you miss it, you can see it on a screen.]
Also, currently 50 percent of aisle armrests have to be movable. Why 50 percent? Why not 100 percent?
They’re building more planes with smaller space that are lighter and use less fuel, but they’re not charged with coming up with a plane that has a whole new form of access. We need to connect with engineers who think outside the box and who know how to do this for us.
• Accessible Air Travel can be downloaded for free from www.unitedspinal.org.
• Disability discrimination complaints can be filed with the U.S. DOT by using this form: airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/escomplaint/es.cfm
• Transportation Security Administration, www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions