Action Alert on Air Travel Communications Access for
People with Hearing Loss
By Cheryl Heppner
Editor: You may have heard that the Department of Transportation is
finally looking at the issue of providing communications access to air
travelers with hearing loss. Here are Cheryl Heppner's synopsis of the
proposed rules and instructions on how to file your comments! If you've
ever been frustrated at not being able to understand what's going on in
an airport or airplane, this is your chance to do something about it!
If you'd like to share this information, please see the credit at the
end of the article.
Accessible Air Travel: Worth the Wait? There is a saying that nothing
good happens fast. If we hold the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)
on accessible air travel for deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind people
to that standard, it should be very good indeed.
Consumer organizations for deaf, hard of hearing. late-deafened and
deaf-blind persons, including NVRC, started pushing for this rulemaking
in 1996. The Department of Transportation (DOT) deferred a decision
about it in March 1998. Eventually, in August 2002, DOT set up a
memorandum of understanding with the National Council on Disabiity to
submit a proposal for a petition for rulemaking, which was accepted. A
work group was set up and in July 2004 the petition was submitted. By
the time the NPRM was published in the Federal Register on February 23,
2006, 10 years of effort had been invested.
There is some good news. The proposed rules include many of the
things we have been asking for. But those accessibility features won't
happen unless you are open about your needs. You must tell the staff
about your inability to hear information (and see it, if applicable) in
the terminal and on the aircraft --at check-in, at the gate, on the
plane, in the baggage area and elsewhere.
What's In the Proposed Rules
The proposed rules include:
1. If an airline has telephone reservation and information lines,
they must also have these services available by TTY. The TTY services
must have a response time equal to that of voice callers. TTY calls must
be accepted during the same hours as available for voice calls, and at
no greater cost than to hearing callers.
3. Copies of the access rules for air carriers must be made available
to the public on request at airports. Upon request, passengers must be
given information on getting an accessible copy, such as in large print
or braille, or getting disability-related assistance through the DOT
Disability Hotline or DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
4. Airport terminals must display high-definition captioning (e.g.
white letters on a black background) on the TVs and audiovisual displays
providing safety briefings, information or entertainment in areas of
public access such as lounges and gate areas. In areas like clubrooms
that are restricted, the captioning feature must be turned on upon
Non-caption capable TVs or audiovisual displays must be replaced in
the normal course of operation, or when substantial renovation or
expansion is being done. Newly acquired TVs and audiovisual displays for
passenger entertainment must have caption capability.
5. Airport terminals must provide the same information that hearing
people receive, and provide it promptly to people who self-identify as
needing it. This information can be provided through any medium,
including white boards, handwritten notes, LCD display and pager. Among
the kinds of information that would be included:
Checking and change of luggage
Volunteer solicitation on oversold flights
Emergencies (fire, bomb threat, etc.)
6. Air carriers must get training in basic visual, auditory and
tactile methods to communicate effectively with passengers.
7. Onboard the aircraft, all safety and information videos must be
captioned. Safety briefings must be available with captions within 180
days after the effective date of the rule. Informational briefings must
be available with captioning within 240 days after the effective date of
the rule. All videos, DVDs, and other audiovisual displays for
entertainment purposes must be captioned on new aircraft. The definition
of new aircraft is those ordered after the date the rule becomes
effective, or delivered two years after the effective date. For existing
aircraft, if the cabin audiovisual equipment is being replaced after the
effective date, the equipment must be caption capable.
information must be provided promptly. Examples of this include:
Procedures for takeoff and landing
Schedule or aircraft change
Diversion to a different airport
Scheduled departure and arrival times
Beverage and menu information
Connecting gate assignments
Claiming of baggage
Individuals being paged by the airline
Aircraft changes that affect travel of people with disabilities
Emergencies (fire, bomb, etc.)
9. Air carriers must train their personnel to recognize requests for
communication accommodations by people with vision or hearing loss and
us the most common methods that are readily achievable to communicate
with them. This means communicating through basic visual and auditory
methods. The carriers must consult with organizations representing
persons with disabilities to develop their training program, policies
and procedures. Refresher trainings are also mentioned.
Safety Assistants: An Unresolved Issue
A major access issue still
unresolved in this rulemaking is that of requiring safety assistants to
travel with people who have both vision and hearing loss. When these
individuals identify themselves, air carrier staff are required to make
reasonable attempts to accommodate them. The rulemaking asks for a
definition of just what qualifies as a reasonable attempt. It also asks
for comments on how "joint responsibility" for communication,
shared by the carrier staff and the individual with vision and hearing
loss, would work out in practice. The rulemaking proposes to clarify
that a safety assistant would be provided at no cost to the passenger
when the passenger's self-assessment is that none is needed and that he
or she can travel independently.
Send in Comments by April 24! The Department of Transportation is
seeking comment on these proposed rules. They must be received by April
24, 2006. It is very important to comment so they understand how
important this accessibility is.
It is helpful to talk about your personal travel experiences. Tell
DOT what you like or don't like about the rules, and how you'd change
it. Mention anything you feel is important but missing from the proposed
rules. Feel free to share your comments with us for possible inclusion
in our "Readers Write" feature of the NVRC News.
It's easy to send your comments at the DOT website. Use their Dockets
Management System at http://dms.dot.gov/submit/ The docket number for
the form is 2006-23999. "Accommodations for Individuals who are
deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind"
***************** (c)2006 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130,
Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org. Items in this newsletter are provided
for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or
services. You do not need permission to share this information, but
please be sure to credit NVRC.