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Despite progress, air travel still poses challenges for people with disabilities

© Chris Sorensen
Edwin J. Viera

(New York News Connection) Ahead of the holiday season, advocates are calling on Congress to increase disability access in air travel. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports a little more than 1,000 wheelchairs and scooters were mishandled in May of this year. In January, the Department of Transportation received 222 disability-related complaints, an increase from the same period in 2022. 

Kendra Davenport, president and CEO of Easterseals, said air travel is not as accessible as it needs to be.

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"When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, it really mandated that most modes of transit adopt modalities that would make them more accessible, and air travel was given a pass. You know, we all have an interest in moving faster and making air travel accessible," Davenport said. 

This was partially due to the passage of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, which prohibits commercial airlines from discriminating against disabled passengers. Davenport wants to see Braille placards, in-flight entertainment designed for hearing-impaired people, and ways to help neurodivergent people too. She and other advocates want Congress to implement these changes by 2026.

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But, this won't be so easy. Even though the ACA and the ADA have been around for more than three decades, it's uncertain whether these changes will come to fruition. But, she says this issue can no longer be ignored.

"The baby boomers are aging rapidly. More and more of us will be disabled. This is no longer an issue that's pushed off to the corner of the desk; this is front and center," Davenport continued. 

U.S. Census data show in 2020, people age 45 and older made up 42 percent of the population. She says all stakeholders, from air-travel employees to legislators to disability-rights advocates, need to come together for solutions, adding it's more than a holiday issue, it's an everyday issue.