Accessible bathrooms may soon become a fixture on newer single-aisle airplanes as the U.S. Department of Transportation announced in early December that it is considering changes to the Air Carrier Access Act. In addition to possibly requiring accessible bathrooms on single aisle airplanes, DOT is also considering implementing clearer definitions for service animals and other changes as well.
Being able to use the bathroom when she flies would definitely make travel more comfortable, says Minna Hong, a paraplegic from Atlanta, Georgia. “If the bathrooms are available to wheelchair users it would make it so much easier to fly,” says Hong, who is a member of Delta’s Advisory board on disability and supervises Shepherd Center’s SCI peer support program. She travels on long flights with her husband and resorts to catheterizing under a blanket. “I know a lot of women as well as men with spinal cord injuries and they put in a Foley catheter for their travel purposes so they don’t have to deal with the lack of an accessible bathroom.”
Hong says she believes disability accommodations would be easier to secure if companies tracked the financial impact of disabled travelers and their companions. “If they looked at it a little bit wider they’ll be able to see how this one person‘s connection works within the system,” she says.
But caution should be exercised when reexamining the appropriate definition of a service animal, as loosening restrictions could lead to more fraud, says accessible travel writer Candy Harrington. “The current guidelines are pretty strong as they require people who travel with emotional support animals to get a note from their mental health professional,“ she says. Harrington is opposed to lifting that restriction.
Other possible changes include greater access to in-flight oxygen and requiring airlines to annually report to the DOT the number of requests for disability assistance and when the assistance was provided.