DOT Argues Airline Restroom Accessibility for Veterans With Disabilities Not “Top Priority” and Unlawfully Delayed Rule for Nearly Two Years, Violating Congressional Mandate
Denver, CO— Yesterday, the Department of Transportation stated in a legal filing that it intends to issue a proposed rule about making airplane restrooms accessible for travelers with disabilities. The filing was in response to a lawsuit brought by Democracy Forward on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, challenging DOT for its unjustified and unlawful delay of such rulemaking. Congress ordered DOT to move forward in the rulemaking process for a rule on lavatory accessibility by July 2017, but under Secretary Elaine Chao, the Department failed to do so.
In its court submission, which included a nearly one-thousand page addendum, DOT stated that while airline restroom accessibility for veterans and travelers with disabilities has not been “a top priority,” it would nonetheless issue a proposed rule for public comment by December 2, 2019. The lack of accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft means that passengers with disabilities are often forced to take extreme measures, including intentionally dehydrating themselves before long trips.
“Access to a restroom should be a basic human right, but for nearly two years the Department of Transportation has failed to follow Congress’s mandate to move forward with a rulemaking aimed at addressing restroom inaccessibility on airplanes,” stated Paralyzed Veterans of America and Democracy Forward. “In response to our lawsuit, the Department now states it will issue a proposed rule by December of this year. To ensure that the Department does in fact advance this rulemaking to provide vital travel protection to paralyzed veterans and other travelers with disabilities, we will continue to press forward with this case.”
The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits airlines from discriminating against travelers on the basis of disability. In July 2016, Congress gave DOT a one-year deadline to promulgate new rules addressing wheelchair accessibility for airplane restrooms. In November 2016, Paralyzed Veterans of America, disability advocates and airline industry representatives presented DOT a negotiated rule to issue for public comment.
Sec. Chao failed to follow Congress’s directive to issue a lavatory access rule by July 2017 and has provided no justification for this failure. Furthermore, after shirking DOT’s mandatory deadline, Sec. Chao removed the rule from the priority agenda for the Spring of 2018, suggesting that DOT had effectively halted work on this crucial priority for disability rights advocates.
In July 2018, Democracy Forward, on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, petitioned a federal court to require the DOT to comply with a Congressional requirement to issue rules about restroom accessibility on airplanes for public comment.
Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated solely for the benefit and representation of veterans with spinal cord injury or disease. For more than 70 years, we have ensured that veterans have received the benefits earned through their service to our nation; monitored their care in VA spinal cord injury units; and funded research and education in the search for a cure and improved care for individuals with paralysis.
As a partner for life, Paralyzed Veterans of America also develops training and career services, works to ensure accessibility in public buildings and spaces, provides health and rehabilitation opportunities through sports and recreation and advocates for veterans and all people with disabilities. With more than 70 offices and 33 chapters, Paralyzed Veterans of America serves veterans, their families and their caregivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.