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Rules to Make Flying Easier for Passengers with Disabilities

December 16th, 2013

Flying may become easier for people with disabilities, thanks to new federal rules.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued new rules that will require airlines to make their automated airport kiosks and their websites accessible to people with disabilities. In addition, airlines will be able to choose between two options for handling wheelchairs on flights. They may stow them in the cabin compartment or strap them to a seat row, which will ensure that two wheelchairs of the manual, folding type can be transported at once.

The rules are part of the DOT’s ongoing implementation of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. Officials said that the rules built upon past work to ensure air access for people with disabilities, and that air travelers should be treated with fairness regardless of any disabilities.

The rules require airlines to make pages of their websites that contain core information and services accessible to people with disabilities within two years, and to make all web pages accessible within three years. The accessibility standards are contained in the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines and address such issues as navigability by people with vision limitations. The rule also applies to foreign airlines that have websites marketed toward U.S. travel consumers.

Also under the new rules, web-based discount fares will have to be disclosed and offered to customers who are unable to use airlines’ websites due to a disability. This requirement takes effect 180 days after the effective date of the rule.

The rule regarding automated airport kiosks, such as those for printing baggage tags and boarding passes, requires that any new kiosks installed be accessible to people with disabilities, until 25 percent or more of the kiosks in each airport are accessible. The 25 percent goal must be reached within 10 years regardless of whether new kiosks are installed.

The rule regarding stowage of wheelchairs permits airlines more flexibility. Previously, the seat-strapping method of stowing wheelchairs was restricted, and the method of stowing the wheelchair in a closet or other compartment was favored. Now both methods may be used under certain conditions, allowing an aircraft to stow two wheelchairs if necessary.

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