Almost fifteen years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted, Airport facilities are still continually challenged with installing the right accommodations.
"There are nearly 50 million Americans over 15 years old with one form of disability or another" says Martin Orlick, a partner with San Francisco-based law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler and Marmaro. "According to Fortune Magazine, disabled travelers in 1995 spent $82 billion on travel. Worldwide, the number of disabled travelers is exponentially higher," adds Orlick. "To this number, one must recognize most disabled travelers are accompanied by travel companions. [And] increasing numbers of disabled persons are business travelers."
The Law States...
With the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, air transportation providers have made great strides to increase accessible services for people with disabilities.
In general, the ADA prohibits discrimination in public transportation by both publicly and privately funded entities. Part I of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers Transportation, including airports; however, there are lines drawn with regard to which part of the ADA covers which service at or from an airport. Title II covers publicly funded entities and Title III covers privately funded entities.
However, air travel is excluded from ADA regulations as it is covered by the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986. The regulations of the Air Carrier Access Act affect US air carriers as well as facilities owned, leased or operated by them. Air carriers are required to establish a formal procedure to resolve complaints with regard to disability access.
Related services, such as ground transportation operated by public airports are subject to the same requirements as other public transit agencies. Public airport facilities are covered by Title II of ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Private airports are covered by Title III, and in some cases, by Section 504. Public accommodations within airports, such as restaurants and newsstands, are covered by Title III of the ADA.
Publicly funded transportation agencies that are recipients of funds from the Federal Department of Transportation must comply with all ADA regulations including those of the Department of Transportation, those of the Department of Justice implementing Title II of the ADA and those of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission implementing Title I of the ADA.
Areas of Concern
"The nation's airports, more so than many public accommodations, have taken significant steps to make airport public facilities accessible to disabled travelers," explains Orlick. "Most public facility access barriers have been removed in the parking lots, paths of travel to and through our airports, ticket and service counters, baggage handling, rest rooms, restaurants and airport ground services."
Orlick also points out, "the major areas of concern for the disabled traveler (particularly wheelchair travelers) are traveling from the curb to the gate, delays, missing flights and access barriers from ‘jetway to jetway."
"Transferring from a personal wheelchair to a smaller airport service chair, boarding the flight, being seated and accommodated in flight, debarking and catching connecting flights are areas of concern to airport managers, personnel and disabled passengers."
Another concern in today's ground environment is that of security screening. According to statistics published by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics in 2002, there are numerous reported problems by those with a disability using air transportation and the service of airports. Security restrictions were the biggest problems faced by persons with disabilities at airports, accounting for over a third of those reported.
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