O'Rourke plan aims to make air travel more accessible for disabled people

O'Rourke plan aims to make air travel more accessible for disabled people
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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), a 2020 presidential contender, on Tuesday announced a plan to address barriers disabled people face during air travel.

O'Rourke's plan would direct the Department of Transportation to “diligently enforce” the Air Carrier Access Act (ACCA), which bans discrimination on the basis of disability.

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It would also direct the department to ensure airlines sufficiently train staff on handling disability issues, including creating standards and procedures for ACCA compliance. O’Rourke would also push to amend the ACCA to include a private right of action to allow disabled passengers to take action when they believe their rights have been violated and to provide incentives for exceeding Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

O’Rourke described his interactions with Tucson, Ariz., resident and wheelchair user Amanda Parkman and how they illustrated the need for such reforms.

“As Amanda eloquently describes, living a barrier-free life must also include access, accommodations, and safety in air travel for people with disabilities,” O’Rourke wrote in a Medium post. “Airline passengers with disabilities must be assured that their mobility equipment can arrive safely and undamaged."

“Getting on an airplane shouldn’t have to mean preparing to be unable to work, pick up your children, or enjoy your vacation for several days. Yet that’s often what it means for the thousands of Americans with disabilities who see their wheelchairs or other lifesaving equipment damaged, lost, or destroyed,” Rebecca Cokley, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the liberal Center for American Progress, told The Hill.

“This is not an inconvenience, it can be a life-altering emergency. The Air Carrier’s Access Act was passed 33 years ago, yet the skies remain unfriendly to so many passengers with disabilities,” Cokley added.

Emily Ladau, editor-in-chief of Rooted in Rights, which creates videos and social media campaigns dedicated to disability rights, told The Hill that there is value when presidential candidates address specific disability policy issues.

“It's heartening to see a presidential candidate recognize accessible travel as a key policy issue. For far too many disabled people, the nightmare scenarios that so often ensue during air travel essentially close off the world,” Ladau told The Hill.

Strengthening accessibility is vital for air traffic in particular, Ladau told The Hill.

“Rather than encounter discrimination or broken mobility equipment, it feels easier to stay home. And while I personally continue to put up with the stresses and anxieties of not knowing if my wheelchair will make it to my destination in one piece and working order, it's about time elected officials and presidential hopefuls double down on the need for access — in the air and on the ground,” she said.

A series of high-profile incidents involving airlines and disabled passengers have underscored the issue, including one in May when a Canadian amputee said officials at a Calgary airport confiscated the batteries for his mobility scooter.