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Feds prep rules to help air travelers with disabilities

Feds prep rules to help air travelers with disabilities
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The Department of Transportation (DOT) has moved one step closer to implementing proposals aimed at improving air travel for passengers with disabilities.

An advisory group announced Monday that they reached an agreement on how the department should make lavatories on single-aisle aircraft and in-flight entertainment systems more accessible to everyone.

The DOT plans to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking based on the agreement next summer. 

"The agreement reached by the ACCESS Advisory Committee is an important step towards ensuring that air travelers with disabilities have equal access to air transportation,” DOT Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxHillicon Valley: Exclusive: Audit cleared Google's privacy practices despite security flaw | US weapon systems vulnerable to cyber attacks | Russian troll farm victim of arson attack | US telecom company finds 'manipulated' hardware Lyft taps former Obama administration official to lead its policy team Georgia Power says electricity at Atlanta airport will likely be restored by midnight MORE said in a statement. “I’m pleased that all involved parties are working together towards our common goal of universal access to the air transportation system.”

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The advisory committee — which was established to develop rules that address accommodations for air travelers with disabilities — is made up of disability advocacy organizations, airlines, flight attendants and other stakeholders.

One issue the group was tasked with exploring is whether new single-aisle aircraft should be required to have an accessible lavatory over a certain size.

Currently, passengers who use wheelchairs cannot access the lavatory on single-aisle aircraft and sometimes avoid flying or dehydrate themselves in order to avoid having to relieve themselves during flight. 

The committee is recommending that eventually airlines should be required to provide an accessible lavatory, equivalent to the ones on twin-aisle aircraft, on any single-aisle plane that has more than 125 passenger seats. 

Another issue is that airlines don’t always provide in-flight entertainment that has closed captioning or audio descriptions, which the DOT said is unfair to passengers who are deaf, hard of hearing or blind.

Under the advisory’s agreement, airlines would be required to display captioned or audio-described content, unless those versions are not available from the airline’s content provider. 

“U.S. airlines are committed to offering the highest levels of customer service and go above and beyond to ensure a pleasant flight experience for all of our passengers, especially those in need of additional assistance,” said David Berg, senior vice president and general counsel for Airlines for America. “A4A was proud to support our members on the ACCESS Advisory Committee and we commend DOT and our participating partners for taking a collaborative approach toward delivering solutions that offer a great benefit to the traveling public.”

The committee said it worked for over six months to reach consensus on the two issues, which had been unresolved for decades.

But the group was not able to negotiate an agreement on service animals. The DOT said it intends to draft its own rules on that topic.