PVA From The Top – Bare Accessibility

It’s easy to see why someone with a disability would have anxiety about air travel

By Charles Brown

As the summer travel season kicks into full gear this month, many families start thinking about getaways to sunny beaches, beautiful mountains, historic sites or visits with faraway family and friends.

Most of those folks’ travel to their destination of choice will simply involve choosing whether to take a car, plane or train. There’s not much trouble to worry about with any of those choices, as they’ve become such a regular part of life for the majority of the world.

Flying is a popular and fast way to travel, so you don’t miss too much of that coveted vacation time. Unfortunately, that mode of transportation comes with great fear for those of us with disabilities.

That’s right — flying can lead to bad anxiety and fear for many travelers with disabilities.

Why, you ask?

Because when traveling by air with a disability, you must put faith in the system of transportation that demands you be lifted from your mobility device onto an aisle chair that’s no wider than 13 inches, be pulled down the narrow aisle of an airplane and then be lifted into a seat that doesn’t offer proper support.

Meanwhile, your personal mobility device, which has been made specifically for you to give proper support and prevent injuries, is taken away and put into the cargo area with other luggage or equipment stacked around it.

Your mobility device is often beaten, damaged or destroyed by the crews who inadvertently put the wrong things around it or even improperly secure it inside the cargo area. It’s sometimes dropped from the conveyor belt or even crushed by the closing and opening of the cargo door. What’s even worse is sometimes your mobility device is left behind and lost somewhere.

I think it’s easy to see why someone with a disability would have anxiety about air travel. Some people say you also have to get out of your mobility device when traveling by car, but that’s not always the case. There are vehicles adapted so you can travel in your mobility device and remain in a safe and comfortable environment. You can ride a bus and stay in your mobility device. You can ride a train in your mobility device.

Air travel is the only transportation mode that demands you get out of your mobility device and subject your body or device to additional damage. In 1986, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). It’s a law that says air travel must be accessible and safe for passengers with disabilities. In all the years since, the airlines have done nothing to improve on safety for passengers with disabilities.

In fact, they really have done nothing to make the inside of aircraft accessible. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is where many people get confused. If the ADA and its broad laws make public establishments and transportation modes accessible, why leave out air travel?

The answer is simple: Congress had already mandated that air travel be made accessible with the ACAA. What it didn’t do in either the ADA or ACAA was create a continued effort to make disabled air travel better with every new aircraft design. Basically, airlines can keep the same bad interior layout and the accessibility to the barest form.

How many new aircraft have been designed since 1986? How many new interiors have been designed and built? The answer is many. Have any of them ever been designed with complete accessibility in mind? No.

That’s completely unacceptable. When I started this article, I was speaking about families enjoying their summer vacations. The unfortunate truth is many families or friends won’t be able to enjoy life like the rest of the world. They’ll be limited on how they can travel by an industry that has done little to make accessibility a priority.

Please join me in fighting for accessible air travel for everyone by visiting pva.org/airtravel

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