Air Travelers with Mobility Impairments Have Waited Decades for Access to Airline Restrooms


Denver, CO— Today, on behalf of Paralyzed Veterans of America, Democracy Forward challenged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for its unjustified and unlawful delay in issuing rules intended to make airplane restrooms accessible for travelers with disabilities.

Last year, Congress directed DOT to move forward in issuing a rule concerning access to restrooms on single-aisle aircraft. Despite a 2016 agreement by the members of a DOT negotiated rulemaking committee to make airplane restrooms accessible, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao ignored the Congressional mandate. The Department also removed the accessible lavatories rule from the Administration’s priority agenda.

These unreasoned actions by DOT have left travelers with disabilities subject to severe discomfort and the continued denial of restroom access. The lack of a requirement for accessible lavatories on single-aisle aircraft means that passengers with disabilities are often forced to take extreme measures, including intentionally dehydrating, before long voyages.

“Accessing a restroom on an airplane is something that most Americans take for granted,” said PVA National President David Zurfluh, a disabled Air Force veteran. “PVA believes that access to a restroom is a basic human right. We were pleased to serve on the negotiated rulemaking committee and stand by the consensus agreement reached with stakeholders. We simply want DOT to move forward with the rulemaking process as Congress required. We have waited long enough.”

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 has effectively halted work on this crucial priority for disability rights advocates.

“The lack of wheelchair accessible lavatories on airplanes is part of the Administration’s continued lack of concern for the indignities faced by air travelers with disabilities,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Sadly, the Administration has once again taken unlawful actions to hold back vital travel protections for America’s paralyzed veterans.”

The new case follows Paralyzed Veterans of America’s ongoing lawsuit against the Administration’s unlawful rollback of a rule requiring domestic airlines to track and report data on lost and damaged wheelchairs and scooters.

The petition was filed in the 10th Circuit Court on July 31, 2018.


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.

Press Contact:

Charisma Troiano
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Lani Poblete
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