Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris convened a group of disability rights advocates to highlight what The White House called “the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to building a nation where people with disabilities are afforded the opportunities, independence, and respect they deserve, including through efforts to increase transportation accessibility.” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg also joined the conversation.
According to a readout from The White House, the Vice President “discussed how the ADA has transformed our country” and “how the Administration is expanding accessibility through historic investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including $1.75 billion under the All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP) to make it easier for people with disabilities to access our nation’s oldest and busiest rail transit systems, and $5 billion through the Airport Terminals program to make airports across the country more accessible and equitable.”
Following the event, the Vice President tweeted about the need for aircraft used on domestic flights to have accessible restrooms:
Her Tweet confirmed that the Biden Administration will “soon announce a solution to help end this inequity.” The question for disabled travelers is, what will that solution look like?
The Department of Transportation gave us a peek at what those new regulations will look like last year, in a notice of proposed rule making for accessible lavatories on single aisle aircraft. The proposed regulation would require that onboard facilities be “large enough to permit a passenger with a disability (with the help of an assistant, if necessary) to approach, enter, and maneuver within the aircraft lavatory, as necessary, to use all lavatory facilities and leave by means of the aircraft’s on-board wheelchair.”
The problem is, that’s so 2022, and it is no longer enough. It’s 2023, and with the debut of the Air4All wheelchair securement space for airplanes, a toilet accessible only to an aisle wheelchair is not good enough. To take a phrase from the Vice President, any regulation that does not require airplane lavatories to be accessible to passengers using their own personal wheelchairs is “absolutely unacceptable” and would represent a grave inequity.
During the meeting, the Vice President reflected on “the stories that I’ve heard of individuals with disabilities, knowing that they may not be able to access the restroom on a plane, and what they must do to deprive themselves of food or liquids for hours and hours before that flight, out of concern that they may need to then take care of themselves but have no access to the ability to do that because that restroom on that plane just does not physically allow that to happen.” She stated that “this is an issue fundamentally, again, about what is morally right and what is right in a society where we say that we prioritize and value the dignity of each human being to be able to live a full life.”
I urge the Biden Administration, Vice President Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to “prioritize and value the dignity” of disabled airline passengers — the DOT’s forthcoming regulation must require an accessible family restroom large enough to accommodate passengers seated in their own wheelchairs. Failing to to do so will deny lavatory access to disabled travelers for many decades and generations to come.