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Air Carrier Access Act Final Rule and Web Accessibility Requirements

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Written by: Kim Phillips

Overview

On November 12, 2013, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) published in the Federal Register a final rule that amends its rules implementing the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) to require U.S. air carriers and foreign air carriers to make their Web sites that market air transportation to the general public in the United States accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition, DOT is amending its rule that prohibits unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition to require ticket agents that are not small businesses to disclose and offer Web-based fares to passengers who indicate that they are unable to use the agents’ Web sites due to a disability.

Effective Dates

The rule is effective on December 12, 2013. Specifically, the final rule is requiring U.S. and foreign air carriers that operate at least one aircraft having a seating capacity of more than 60 passengers to ensure their primary Web sites are accessible. The requirements will be implemented in two phases:

  • Phase I: Web pages that provide core air travel services and information (e.g., booking and changing a reservation) must be accessible by December 12, 2015.
  • Phase II: All remaining pages on a carrier’s Web site must be accessible by December 12, 2016.

Additionally, ticket agents that are not small businesses must disclose and offer Web-based fares on or after June 10, 2014, to passengers who indicate that they are unable to use the agents’ Web sites due to a disability.

Applicable Web Accessibility Standards

Web sites must conform to the standards for accessibility contained in the widely accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and meet the Level A and AA Success Criteria.

Summary of Major Provisions: Web Site Accessibility

Scope/Coverage

Requires U.S. and foreign carriers that operate at least one aircraft having a seating capacity of more than 60 passengers, and own or control a primary Web site that markets air transportation to consumers in the United States to ensure that public-facing pages on their primary Web site are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Requires ticket agents that are not small businesses to disclose and offer Web-based fares to passengers that indicate that they are unable to use an agent’s Web site due  to a disability.

Web Site Accessibility Standard

Requires carriers to ensure that Web pages on their primary Web sites associated with core travel information and services conform to all Level A and AA success criteria of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 within two years of the rule’s effective date and that all other Web pages on their primary Web sites are conformant within three years of the rule’s effective date (December 12, 2013).

Usability Testing of Web Sites

Requires carriers to test the usability of their accessible primary Web sites in consultation with individuals or organizations representing visual, auditory, tactile, and cognitive disabilities.

Equivalent Service

Requires carriers to provide applicable Web-based fare discounts and other Web-based amenities to customers with a disability who cannot use their Web sites due to a disability.

Requires ticket agents to provide applicable Web-based fare discounts on and after 180 days from the rule’s effective date to customers with a disability who cannot use an agent’s Web site due to a disability.

Online Disability Accommodation Requests

Requires carriers to make an online service request form available within two years of the rule’s effective date to passengers with disabilities to request services including, but not limited to, wheelchair assistance, seating accommodation, escort assistance for a visually impaired passenger, and stowage for an assistive device.

2 Comments

  • poojanahata
    January 28, 2014

    I guess the scope will also extend to carriers mobile website and apps? Any thoughts?

    • Eduardo.meza@ssbbartgroup.com
      January 28, 2014

      Thank you for your comment. This is an excellent question. Surprisingly enough, the Department of Transportation has decided on this Final Rule not to require that mobile website, email, text messaging and mobile apps and other electronic communication technologies be accessible at this time.

      Below is the Department’s reasoning behind that decision:

      The Department unequivocally supports full accessibility of all electronic information and communication technologies used by the air transportation industry to interface with its customers. We believe that certain factors, however, preclude introducing new accessibility requirements for electronic information and communication technologies other than Web sites at this time. Four factors weighed most heavily in our decision:

      No accessibility standard specifically for mobile Web sites exists at this time;

      Accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0 cannot be readily applied to mobile applications designed for mobile platforms that are not accessible;

      Most mobile devices currently on the market are not accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired; and

      The need to focus carrier attention and resources on bringing existing Web sites into compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

      We believe the best approach to expanding accessibility of electronic information and communication technology in the air travel industry is to allow carriers to focus their resources on bringing the covered public-facing content of their primary Web sites into full compliance with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard. As they do so, they will acquire expertise and develop technical efficiencies in implementing the standard. We have decided, therefore, not to require that mobile Web sites, email, text messaging, mobile apps, and other electronic communication technologies be accessible at this time. Nonetheless, we encourage carriers to develop their mobile Web sites in conformance with the W3C’s current W3C Mobile Web Best Practices 1.0 (MWBP 1.0) until such time as a standard for mobile Web sites is developed and adopted. We also encourage carriers to immediately begin incorporating accessibility features into email, text messaging, and other information and communication technologies they use to the extent feasible. Doing so will immediately and incrementally increase access to those technologies for individuals with disabilities. In addition, it may make compliance with any accessibility standard the Department may require for such technologies in the future easier and less costly.