Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, persons with disabilities 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. This includes equal and dignified access to air transport.
To support progress towards this goal, the ICAO Council recently approved the elevation of Recommended Practices to Standards concerning the air transport of passengers with disabilities. these will become binding on ICAO’s 193 Member States pursuant to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, by virtue of the insertion of these Standards in Annex 9 – Facilitation to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.
Governments will be obligated to ensure, that when travelling, persons with disabilities are provided with special assistance in order to ensure that they receive the same services customarily available to the general public, and that this assistance shall be provided in a manner that respects the dignity of the individual. Formerly, this was only a recommendation.
Measures to ensure that hearing- and vision-impaired travelers are able to obtain flight service-related information in accessible formats will be obligatory. States will also need to take steps to provide adequate parking for people with mobility needs, and to designate points for the pick-up and drop-off of persons with disabilities at airport terminal buildings. These are to be located as close as possible to main entrances and exits, and to facilitate movement within the airport, access routes shall should be free of obstacles and be accessible.
Special attention has also been given to the issue of the lifting of passengers, specifically to stress that manual lifting should be avoided. Lifting systems and other appropriate devices should be made available in order to facilitate movement of persons with disabilities between the aircraft and the terminal, particularly when passenger boarding bridges are not being used. Passengers will be encouraged to provide advanced notice when these will be required.
Over the years there have been many enhancements in the provision of accessible facilities and services to persons with disabilities in air transportation worldwide, but much work remains to be done. Persons with disabilities constitute the world’s largest minority, making up a significant and in fact growing percentage of the world’s population. It is in keeping with the general obligations of States under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that ICAO carries out its own work to promote universal design, to promote the provision of accessible information, and to promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities, and advocates for renewed attention to these issues at the international level.
“I welcome all progress by standard-setting bodies, regulators, and stakeholders that enhances the safe travel of those most vulnerable when travelling by air,” remarked aviation accessibility consultant Christopher Wood, who has received an MBE for his own contributions in this area. “However, it is clear the most vulnerable still travel with a higher risk than many other passengers. More innovation and legislation need to be done to make the aircraft cabin and other air transport settings safer and more accessible.”