The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. In March 1990, the Department of Transportation (DoT) issued a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers as a direct result of this law. On November 12, 2013 the DoT issued rules (DOT-OST-2011-0177-0111) regarding the accessibility of carrier websites and ticket kiosks, which will require these sites and kiosks to be accessible to people with disabilities. The final rule published was published in the Federal Register (FR Vol. 78 No. 218) on November 12, 2013 and went into effect on December 12, 2013, thirty days after publication. The principal provisions were published to 14 CFR 382.43 Must information and reservation services of carriers be accessible to individuals with visual, hearing, and other disabilities? and 14 CFR 382.57 What accessibility requirements apply to automated airport kiosks?
U.S. and foreign air carriers operating flights within or to the U.S. or selling tickets to the U.S. public are required to ensure that the public-facing content of websites that they own or control conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA. The requirements apply to both U.S. air carriers’ public-facing pages and foreign carriers’ public-facing pages that are used to advertise or sell to the U.S. public for air transportation that begins or ends in the U.S.
The regulations apply to core air travel services as of December 12, 2015 and to the entire site as of December 12, 2016. Core air travel services are defined in 14 CFR 382.43 to include portions of the site related to seven core activities:
- Booking or changing a reservation, including all flight amenities;
- Checking in for a flight;
- Accessing a personal travel itinerary;
- Accessing the status of a flight;
- Accessing a personal frequent flyer account;
- Accessing flight schedules; and
- Accessing carrier contact information.
By implication, this also includes the general portions of the site users need to navigate through to access these services. In effect, this provides some degree of blanket coverage for making sites compliant that will be in effect as of the December 12, 2015 deadline.
As part of the regulation, the primary website “must be tested in consultation with individuals with disabilities.” This is a similar requirement to the one present in the final CVAA Advanced Communication Services (ACS) regulations and is a trend SSB sees growing in the market. In essence, this helps to ensure not only that the pages technically conform to accessibility requirements, but also that they functionally work for people with disabilities.
The regulations allow for alternative versions of pages to be used for conformance only when conforming would “constitute an undue burden or fundamentally alter the information or functionality provided by that page.” This is a significant barrier to providing an alternative site as a means of achieving compliance and in line with the focus of other accessibility requirements, which dictate that a primary site be the core route for providing accessible access.
Finally, carriers must assist users with disabilities who cannot use the primary website due to accessibility issues. Specifically, both carriers and agents must provide discounted fares and other “web site” amenities via telephone for users with disabilities. In addition, carriers must provide an online disability accommodations request form that users with disabilities can use to request or note the need for an accommodation on a flight.
The initial draft of the rule required that carriers be responsible for ensuring that the activities of their agents conformed to the rules. This would have required the carriers to ensure that travel sites such as Orbitz, Expedia and sites that package air travel with vacation packages – such as rewards sites for financial services companies – be accessible. As part of the final rulemaking process DoT dropped this requirement in favor of only requiring agents to make all web based discount fares available via the phone to anyone calling and identifying themselves as unable to use the website due to accessibility concerns.
Automated kiosks operated by carriers at airports must be accessible to people with disabilities. The regulations require that 25% of kiosks installed after December 12, 2016 be accessible to people with disabilities and that 25% of all kiosks be accessible by December 12, 2022.
The accessibility standards for automated airport kiosks are based on the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DoJ) Section 707, Automatic Teller Machines and Fare Machines 2010 ADA Standards, which are applicable to ATMs, fare machines and other selected accessibility criteria. The standards, however, are separate from those standards and extend and modify them as appropriate for ensuring the accessibility of airport kiosk systems. Notably the final standards include certain criteria of the Access Board’s Section 508 standards for self-contained, closed products (36 CFR 1194.25), components of the WCAG 2.0 and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG).
For kiosks the effective date focuses on when the kiosk was installed. After December 12, 2016 carriers must start to deploy accessible kiosks until a total of 25% of all kiosks in each location are accessible. By implication, this means that all standalone kiosks must be accessible and at least 25% of each cluster of kiosks must be accessible. As an example, in a location where five kiosks are in a cluster at least two of the kiosks must be accessible. In the same vein a single kiosk that is not in close proximity to another kiosk must be accessible.
In addition, the functionality provided by accessible kiosks must cover all the functionality available from the other kiosks. As an example, if an inaccessible kiosk provided the ability to print boarding passes, upgrade a seat or check bags the accessible kiosk would have to provide all of these functions as well.
Monitoring and Certification
In the Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the DoT defined potential scenarios in which carrier websites could indicate their compliance. This included, potentially, requiring carrier sites to post WCAG conformance statements that define the level of compliance of a site against the WCAG conformance requirements. Unlike the Section 508 requirements the WCAG has extensive rule related to making conformance claims that would well serve the Department in this respect.
Upon analyzing these requirements the Department adopted not to require carriers to address any specific accessibility compliance approach. Instead the department encouraged carriers to utilize one of a variety of self monitoring approaches for ensuring compliance. In addition, however, the Department noted that it intends to engage Web site accessibility experts to check the compliance of carrier Web sites. This will allow the Department to provide both recommended corrective actions and, if needed, take enforcement actions against non-compliant organizations.