Posted in Accessibility for people with disabilities, Air carrier access act

Nothing “Fake” in this News Story about Service Animals


We have recently been inundated with news stories about peacocks, turkeys and other assorted creatures, who are joining or attempting to join us on airline flights.

Not surpringly, this has occasionally resulted in conflicts between humans v. animals, animals v. animals and humans v. humans. Although these instances are relativly rare, the negative publicity casts a shadow on people with disabilities who genuinely need those animals in order to access airplanes.

It doesn‘t help that there is also tremendous misinformation out there about what the law actually says. That’s why it was refreshing to come across an article by the Washington Post that explains the issues in a very clear and easy-to-read style.

One of the most important points made is the following:

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) limits the definition of  “service animals“  to dogs and miniature horses, this is not true with the airline industry, which is covered by a different law – The Airline Carrier Aviation Act (ACAA).  Under that law, airlines are required  to allow certain other animals on board.  This is because unlike the ADA, the ACAA covers what are called “emotional support animals,“  animals that are not there to perform specific tasks, but whose job is to generally ease anxiety and provide a degree of security to their handlers.

Without these animals, some passengers with disabilities may not be able to access airplanes. And since accessibility is the heart and soul of all disability laws,  it must be fiercely protected.

The US Department of Transportation has recently issued proposed rules to add more restrictions on animals aboard airlines. In a subsequent post, I will discuss what I consider to be the pros and cons of these rules. In the meantime, I have provided links both to these rules and to the Washington Post article.

Once Again, Disability Rights are “Grounded.”

Tammy Duckworth is a U.S. Senator from Illinois. She is also a veteran who had her legs amputated after her plane was shot down during Desert Storm.

Senator Duckworth must fly a lot in her work and she says that airline employees have damaged her wheelchairs on several occasions, including one instance when her chair collapsed while she was sitting in it.

Larry Dodson watched his 350-pound wheelchair being loaded onto the plane for his direct flight. But somehow, when the plane landed, the wheelchair was “lost.” Although it was located an hour later, Mr. Dodson had to be transferred from his seat to an uncomfortable airport wheelchair. As a result, he developed bedsores and was in bed for three days. Because of this and other similar experiences, the 70-year old quadriplegic (also a veteran) now does not feel comfortable flying. In addition to being a disheartened traveler, Mr. Dodson is Secretary of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). As such, he has heard many similar stories about airline employees damaging travelers’ wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Because of these and many similar reports, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (required by law) to get public input about this issue.

During a five-year period, the DOT received information from hundreds of people who had similar experiences to Duckworth and Dodson. As a result, it issued a new regulation in November 2016, requiring airlines to track instances of mishandled wheelchairs/scooters and to make this information available to the public. In that way, people choosing which airline to fly would have more information and the airlines would have more accountability.

Even though the rule was finalized in November 2016, the DOT delayed the actual implementation period to January 2018. This was based on information it had gathered that a year was long enough to allow airlines to prepare for this new requirement.

Everything was in place and ready to go. Then Donald Trump got elected.

In December 2017, Trump’s then chief of staff, Reince Priebus,sent out a memo to all federal agencies announcing a delay in the implementation of all pending federal regulations. This would seem to exclude the above rule because it was not pending – it had already been passed. Nevertheless, in March 2017, the DOT unilaterally delayed the implementation date of this rule until January 2019.

In response, the PVA filed a lawsuit against the DOT on July 31 (a copy of which is attached). The suit alleges that in pushing back the deadline, the DOT violated the law by arbitrarily changing this rule without getting public input.

We will see how the lawsuit goes, but I can’t help thinking of something Senator Duckworth said in a letter opposing the DOT’s action: “If an airline loses a passenger’s baggage, it is a serious inconvenience. If a wheelchair or motorized scooter is damaged or lost, it represents a complete loss of mobility and independence for that passenger.”