Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Senator Duckworth: Air Travel and Disability

When the horrific United video broke last week, many disabled folks responded with empathy for Dr. Dao, but also by wanting non-disabled folks to realize that air travel has long been horrific for disabled travelers.

Now Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) has gotten into the issue with a letter to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, linking the United incident to her experiences traveling as a disabled woman.

The Senator takes issue with Secretary Chao's delay of consumer protections. The press release says:
"Under the new rule issued by the Department of Transportation (DOT), air carriers would be required to provide DOT with monthly reports detailing the total number of checked bags, wheelchairs, and motorized scooters, as well as the total number of wheelchairs and mobilized scooters that were mishandled during the reporting period. This rule would ensure that the more than 56 million Americans living with a disability receive protections and rights guaranteed under the Air Carrier Access Act."
Chao delayed it because, well, because Chao delayed it. The release continues:
“Air carriers must be held accountable for their passengers’ well-being and the quality of their service, and the U.S. Department of Transportation must play an active role in improving accountability,” wrote Senator Duckworth. “Delaying this regulation, which would have improved reporting requirements for mishandled and damaged baggage, may not seem significant, but it could have a profound impact on disabled travelers—many of whom are Veterans like myself. The delay appears to be part of a troubling pattern of decisions by the Trump Administration that show disregard for Americans living with disabilities, and I urge you to reconsider.”
 In her letter, the Senator talks about her own experiences traveling:
"Delaying this critical consumer protection, which would have improved reporting requirements for mishandled and damaged baggage could have a profound impact on disabled travelers - many of whom are Veterans like myself. The delay appears to be part of a troubling pattern of decisions by the Trump Administration that show disregard for Americans living with disabilities and I urge you to reconsider.
Though all travelers deserve information about the frequency with which an airline damages or loses baggage-information this regulation would have helped provide- travelers with disabilities need access to that information. 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.
I know this first-hand-and this issue is personal for me. In the past year, I have had my personal wheelchair mishandled and damaged several times. I have spent hours filling out paperwork and working with the carrier to replace damaged parts. On a recent trip, I retrieved my wheelchair at the end of the jet bridge, but a titanium rod had been damaged during the flight and my chair literally broke apart while I was sitting in it. The airline was apologetic, but I was left without my primary wheelchair for over five days. I was lucky to have access to additional mobility devices during that time, but many consumers with disabilities do not."
I'm interested in the extent to which Duckworth takes ownership of disability issues, especially those not linked to Veterans and/or wheelchair users. It's still developing.

Chao has a pretty good reputation on disability issues according to some of the DC folks I know. We'll see!



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