From the Editor: Here is the third fact sheet taken to Congress in 2014. Unlike the others it requires some comment. After its writing the National Federation of the Blind discovered that Senate Bill 556 had been introduced by Senator Harkin of Iowa. While it does not go as far as the proposal for legislation in this fact sheet, it does acknowledge the problem the Federation intends to address with a Senate bill, offers the chance of adding friendly amendments, and shows potential sponsors in the House that this issue has been acknowledged as important by the other chamber. Our message then was this: Here is Senate Bill 556, a good bill, and a good start on what we need in air travel. Here too is our fact sheet, a model for what we would like to see in a House bill and for what we hope Senator Harkin will fold into S 556. Here is the fact sheet:
To allow blind and low vision individuals equal access
to technology used in all phases of air travel.
Despite anti-discrimination laws airlines continue to deny access to blind passengers. In 1986 Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability during all phases of air travel, including purchasing a ticket, checking in, boarding and deplaning, receiving in-flight services, and assistance getting around the airport. Air travel has changed significantly since 1986, and most services now require interaction with technology; however, airlines have failed to honor the ACAA by ensuring that those services are usable by blind travelers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public transportation, but because of unique security issues in air travel, airlines were explicitly excluded from the law, compounding the problems facing blind air travelers. Technology creates opportunity to expand the circle of participation, so the law needs to be updated to capture the prospect and ensure equal access.
Passenger interaction with technology is a fundamental requirement of air travel. Passengers have multiple options of accessing flight information that replace endless phone calls and check-in lines. For booking and accessing boarding passes, fliers use websites, mobile apps, or kiosks. Mobile apps provide real-time updates on departure and arrival information and even make it possible to scan a digital boarding pass at security check points. On board, passengers can make in-flight purchases of movies, drinks, or Wi-Fi by using consoles on the seatback in front of them. Technology enhances the flying experience, and who knows what innovative tools might emerge in the future? Blind passengers pay the same price to fly the friendly skies as everyone else, yet cannot use any of these services.
Airlines should stop this discrimination by embracing readily available solutions. Technical criteria for accessible web content and best practices for mobile apps were released back in 2008, and accessibility standards for ATMs and usable kiosks have been on the market for years. Rather than utilize these options and deploy accessible technology, airlines “meet the needs” of their disabled passengers by offering internet rates over the phone to those who self-identify as blind and giving priority access to blind fliers in line. Technology can meet the unfulfilled promise of equal access, yet airlines choose to use an ineffective method of access that relegates blind passengers to antiquated methods of service.
The Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act:
Provides equal access throughout the air travel process by requiring that all methods of booking flights, checking in, obtaining boarding passes, and making in-flight purchases are accessible to blind passengers. All newly created or purchased web content, airport kiosks, mobile apps, and other technology-based services operated by air carriers will be usable by the blind.
Establishes a complaint mechanism to resolve issues of noncompliance with the Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act.
PROTECT EQUALITY IN AIR TRAVEL.
Sponsor the Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act.
For more information contact:
Government Affairs Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2233. Email: <[email protected]>