The Importance of Disability Compliance

Mamie Mallory

Mamie Mallory is the FAA's assistant administrator for Civil Rights. As such, she is the principal advisor to the administrator on civil rights, equal employment opportunity, diversity and affirmative action. She also serves as the FAA diversity advocate and leads the agency's efforts to create a positive environment that supports and encourages the contributions of all employees.

Q: When it comes to ensuring that facilities accommodate all visitors, what special groups of travelers/guests do airports need to remember?

A: Airports need to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and all those with mobility and cognitive challenges. Federal statutes and regulations prohibit discrimination against any individual with a disability in connection with the provision of transportation service and require that airport operators ensure that terminal facilities and services be accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

Discrimination based on age is also prohibited. All travelers and users of our nation's airports deserve and should expect accessible facilities.  

Q: What does the audit process entail?

A: The FAA reviews airport facilities, policies and contracts with airlines, tenants and transit providers. The factors for selecting airports for review include passenger volume, the number of people with disabilities in an airport's immediate metropolitan area, inquiries from the public and others, potential compliance issues and the amount of FAA grants an airport has received. 

Following an on-site review, the FAA issues detailed findings, and then enters an agreement with the airport operator for corrective actions. Compliance reviews are supplemented by significant airport training and technical assistance. We also invite airports to participate in conferences and webinars regarding airport access issues.

Q: Why is compliance so important?

A: Airports are often the gateway to cities. Millions of individuals with disabilities travel through our nation's airports each year. Therefore, it is critical to remove barriers to airport accessibility. Also, studies have shown that even small improvements in airport connectivity can yield large changes in airport use for the nearly 20% of Americans with disabilities. 

Additionally, airports are economic engines for many communities-by some measures, accounting for 5% of the overall U.S. economy. 

It is important to note that our role regarding full accessibility is not limited to onsite compliance reviews. It also includes review of airport policies and procedures, training, guidance, technical assistance and complaint investigations when necessary.  

Q: What are the most common "problem areas" in airports?

A: Proper maintenance is a continuing challenge, including accessible restrooms, providing operational telecommunication devices for hearing impaired guests and enabling closed captioning on televisions in public areas. Other important details include providing an accessible path through the facilities (i.e. clear floor areas and eliminate protruding objects) and ensure that doors don't require an appropriate level of force to push or pull. 

Ground transportation issues include providing and maintaining accessible aisles in curbside loading/unloading areas and ensuring that shuttle services meet key requirements for vehicle configurations and service practices. 

It is also important to adequately address the needs of persons with disabilities in emergency evacuation plans. This is one area some airports forget, but it is crucial. 

Lastly, airport contracts often omit required clauses related to disability law compliance. We are working to increase awareness of this issue. 

Q: What are easy ways to improve access and service for all?

A: Airports benefit from clear policies and communication. Effective maintenance policies require regular evaluation of features, including bathrooms, water fountains, door force and vehicle lifts. Secret shopper programs are an effective second-level check, particularly for services such as wheelchair assistance, information desks, wayfinding and inter-terminal shuttles.

Airports are already required to evaluate their facilities and programs for disability law compliance, and they should use the opportunity of an FAA compliance review to identify challenges and solutions. It is also important to make public information easy to understand and provide it in accessible formats. Finally, it is important that airport operators provide recurrent training to staff and tenants that addresses how to properly serve individuals with disabilities. 

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