IDPD 2019: Making air travel accessible to all passengers


For nearly three decades, on December 3rd every year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is observed around the world. The theme this year is ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a person with disabilities is an individual whose mobility is reduced due to a physical incapacity (sensory or locomotor), an intellectual deficiency, age, illness or any other cause of disability.

Though those with disabilities constitute the world’s largest minority, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that this number is increasing. They have the same international rights as other citizens, such as accessibility, and full and effective participation and inclusion in society, including freedom of movement and freedom of choice. These rights apply to all areas of life, including travel.

Although there have been many changes in the provision of accessible facilities and services to persons with disabilities in air transportation worldwide, the trend requires renewed attention at an international level. Modes of transport must recognise and accommodate this growing passenger segment. Aviation is no exception. Persons with disabilities should have equivalent access to air travel, and special attention to every person’s needs of services must be made available to all passengers.

ICAO’s leadership role in the area of facilitation 

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, disability is referenced in many instances. Seven targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), explicitly refer to persons with disabilities in parts related to education, growth, employment, accessibility of human settlements, as well as data collection and monitoring of the SDGs. Goal 10 specifically strives to reduce inequality within and among countries by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, including persons with disabilities. ICAO is fully committed to working in close cooperation with Member States and other UN Bodies to support this goal and all others.

In keeping with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in December 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly and entered into force on 3 May 2008; Member States are to promote universal design, to provide accessible information, and to promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities.

The ICAO Manual on Access to Air Transport by Persons with Disabilities (Doc 9984) provides general guidance on services and features to help States meet the needs of persons with disabilities in air transportation. It was created by the Facilitation Panel’s Working Group on Persons with Disabilities for the purpose of elaborating on the relevant Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS) in Annex 9 — Facilitation and assisting the civil aviation community in their implementation.

The manual indicates the procedures that form part of an air travel journey, including reservations, check-in, immigration and customs, security clearances, transfers within airports, embarkation and disembarkation, departure, carriage and arrival that should be adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities in order to facilitate the clearance and air transportation of such persons in a dignified manner.

It also addresses the vital importance of providing training for all staff in the chain of air travel service delivery for providing quality service to persons with disabilities in a consistent and respectful manner. Such training should address the attitudinal, environmental/physical and organizational barriers that affect persons with disabilities in air transportation.

In addition to the Manual on Access to Air Transport by Persons with Disabilities, ICAO has developed specifications for machine-readable travel documents that have proved effective in the development of systems that expedite the movement of international passengers and crew members through clearance control at airports while enhancing immigration and other border control authorities compliance programmes. The Organization has also elaborated a set of standard signs to facilitate the efficient use of airport terminals by travellers and other users.

More recently, at the High-Level Conference on Aviation Security that was held in Montréal in November 2018, conclusions related to border control management and accessibility urged Member States to give special attention to increasing their efforts to implement Annex 9 SARPS and give due regard to the Manual on Access to Air Transport by Persons with Disabilities, in their implementation of the relevant provisions of Annex 9. Recommendations also urged the ICAO Council to develop a work programme on accessibility for passengers with disabilities in order to reach for a disability-inclusive air transport system.

In the spirit of ICAO’s No Country Left Behind initiative, leaving no one behind must include more than one billion persons with disabilities. Join us in advocating for institutions in the aviation sector and in all sectors to be more inclusive and accountable for all.