Improving Accessibility for the Disabled on Airplanes

Q: Are changes coming to improve flying conditions for disabled passengers?

One of the ways that the federal government assists people with disabilities is financially–by offering two different federal disability benefits programs. One is Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and the other is Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Qualifying for disability benefits in either program requires meeting the government’s definition of being “disabled” and satisfying other qualifying factors that differ for each program.

Many people seek help from a skilled Social Security disability attorney benefits attorney when applying for disability benefits because approximately 2/3 of all applications are initially denied and the appeals process is extensively backlogged.

In addition to financial assistance, there are other ways that the government tries to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

In 2016, an Access Advisory Committee was assembled by the U.S. Department of Transportation for the purpose of “ensuring that air travelers with disabilities have equal access to air transportation”. The committee recommended changes to onboard entertainment policies including “adding captioning and audio descriptions” so blind and deaf people can enjoy the entertainment.

In addition, the committee recommended “incremental improvements and an eventual requirement that single-aisle planes include accessible lavatories” for those in wheelchairs– since they were only mandated in double-aisle planes. With many longer domestic flights utilizing single-aisle planes, a significant and unfair burden is placed on disabled people who need accessible bathrooms but have had to fly without the ability to use the bathroom if needed.

In 2016, the committee couldn’t decide what changes, if any, should be made regarding service animals on flights. Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation is asking for the public’s feedback in order to shape possible amendments to airline service animal regulations under the Air Carrier Access Act.

People interested have approximately 45 days to weigh in on issues such as whether airlines can or should be:

  • treating different types of service animals (emotional support animals, psychiatric service animals and other types) differently when flying

  • limiting the species of service animals that can fly

  • limiting the size of service animals that can fly

  • limiting the number of service animals that can fly

  • requiring proof of a service animal’s training

  • requiring that service animals be leashed or harnessed.

Seeing-eye dogs are no longer the only service animals around. A “significant uptick” in the use of various types of service animals coupled with problems with “biting, urination, and other misbehavior” have led several airlines to seek ways to “deter the fraudulent use” of unqualified service animals while maintaining “seamless access” to air travel for people with disabilities and their qualified service animals.

If you have any questions regarding applying for Social Security disability benefits or appealing the denial of your application, or any other disability law matter, the disability attorneys of Arizona at Roeschke Law can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Phoenix, Tempe, and Tucson, Arizona, we represent disabled clients throughout Arizona.