Passed in 1986, the Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel. In addition, it requires all U.S. carriers providing air transportation to accommodate the needs of disabled passengers. In 1990, the Department of Transportation issued a rule defining the obligations of carriers and the rights of passengers.

Under the rule, carriers cannot require disabled passengers to accept specialized services (such as pre-boarding, which must at least be offered) if the individuals did not request them. Carriers are not allowed to refuse to transport a disabled person except for legitimate safety reasons; in those cases they must provide a written explanation within ten days. Airlines may not insist on advance notification that a disabled person will be on a flight unless the person will need an accommodation (such as respirator hook-up) that requires advance preparation; even then they may only require no more than 48 hours advance notice. If an airline determines that a disabled person requires a personal attendant, the airline must pay for the attendant's ticket. Carriers also cannot charge the passenger for the transportation of their service animal. The first choice here is to place the animal - usually a dog or small monkey - with the passenger at their seat. If this is not possible, another more accessible seat should be offered before moving the animal to the cargo hold where pets are kept. If this last resort is used, the flight attendants should provide as much assistance as possible, within reason, to compensate until the animal can return to its duties. If an airline offers reservations or information by telephone, they must also offer these services via TTY for deaf customers. If the preflight safety briefings are presented on a video, the program must be open captioned so deaf passengers can get the information. Airlines must give priority to assistive devices brought onto a plane; for example a wheelchair will often be given guaranteed space in the overhead luggage racks. Also, assistive devices may not be counted toward the maximum number of carry-on items allowed per passenger. Finally, carriers must provide at least one complaints resolution officer for every airport served by the carrier.

Legal Rights: The Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People. Fifth edition, 2000. Pages 153-155.

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