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U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Introduces Legislation to Protect Rights of Disabled Airplane Passengers

Over 30,000 airplane passengers, including many disabled veterans, filed disability related complaints with airlines last year

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) today was joined by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Ed Markey (D-MA) to introduce the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act. The legislation would protect the rights of disabled airplane passengers and close service gaps that passengers with disabilities frequently encounter in air travel. Last year over 30,000 airplane passengers, including many disabled veterans, filed disability related complaints with airlines.

“In order to keep America’s promise of full equality for all, we must work to break down the barriers that individuals with disabilities and our veterans face when they travel,” said Senator Baldwin. “Equal access to air travel ensures individuals with disabilities are able to participate in today’s economy and enjoy their travel opportunities.”

“Seeing the fair and expedient consideration of the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is one of Paralyzed Veterans of America’s top priorities,” said Sherman Gillums, Jr., Executive Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The original legislation, passed more than thirty years ago, was a historical step forward for travelers with disabilities. These protections need to go further now and ensure that airplanes are accessible, and that individuals have increased opportunities for their rights to be enforced and protected. We commend Senator Baldwin on her leadership to further protect the rights of passengers with disabilities in air transportation by introducing legislation that will bring critical amendments to this pivotal civil rights law.”

“Updates to the Air Carrier Access Act are long overdue,” said Monica Murphy, Managing Attorney of Disability Rights Wisconsin. “Disability Rights Wisconsin applauds Senator Baldwin’s efforts to make air travel safe and inclusive of disabilities.  For too long people with disabilities have faced barriers when they travel including lack of appropriate accommodations, and have encountered numerous issues with damaged wheelchairs and assistive devices. They have been left with little recourse when things go wrong.  These proposed amendments change all that.”

"The Arc Wisconsin appreciates Senator Baldwin's leadership in introducing legislation to strengthen weaknesses in the enforcement of the rights protections in the Air Carrier Access Act,” said Lisa Pugh, Executive Director of The Arc Wisconsin. “People with I/DD like other people with disabilities will be helped by the changes in this legislation. Thank you to all the sponsors for making air travel better for individuals with I/DD and their families."

For more than 30 years, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has prohibited discrimination based on disability in air travel. Despite this progress, many travelers with disabilities still encounter significant barriers when they travel by air including damaged equipment, delayed assistance and lack of seating accommodations. In 2015, airplane passengers filed more than 30,000 disability related complains with airlines and nearly 1,000 disability-related complaints with the Department of Transportation.

Specifically, the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act will:

  • Strengthen ACAA enforcement to include specific protections of the rights of passengers with disabilities and a private right of action.
  • Ensure airplanes are designed to accommodate people with disabilities and airlines meet accessibility standards, including safe and effective boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements and better stowage options for assistive devices.
  • Improve access to seating accommodations.
  • Close service gaps in air travel for passengers with disabilities.

The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is supported by Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Association of People with Disabilities, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, National Association of the Deaf, American Council of the Blind, Easterseals, United Spinal Association, The Arc, The National Council on Independent Living, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, National Disability Rights Network, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Muscular Dystrophy Association. 

A one-page summary of the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act is available here