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Alert: January 9, 2012 is the deadline to submit comments on the United States Department of Transportation’s pending airline web accessibility and kiosk regulations. In my earlier post about the positive and negative parts of the proposed regulations, I explained how comments could be filed on the “user-friendly” website called the Regulation Room. I recently discovered, however, that comments to the Regulation Room, while shared with the DOT, are not treated the same way by the DOT as comments submitted through the “official” Regulation.gov channel. And, because the official channel is not fully accessible, the federal government has an “optional submission form” that is more accessible. Optional? I thought federal government accessibility was mandatory?
The United States Department of Transportation is currently seeking public comments to its proposed regulations about accessible airline websites and check-in kiosks. The Department is using a new “user friendly” on-line platform to encourage comments, which are due January 9, 2012. The DOT proposed regulations have many positive aspects. However, there are also significant parts of the proposal that need to be strengthened to ensure full equality for people with disabilities in air travel. (Certainly the regulations should not be “killed” as one commenter on the new platform has already suggested). This post contains information on key aspects of the DOT proposal and information about submitting comments.
The United States Department of Transportation issued a press release on September 19, 2011 announcing proposed regulations on airline websites and airline kiosks. The proposed rules would require most airlines to have accessible websites within two years of any final regulation (which could be several years from now if at all). The proposal, if enacted, would also require kiosks purchased after any final regulation to meet accessibility standards. The full text of the announcement is in this post. The DOT’s proposed regulations come as the appeal is pending in two California lawsuits against airlines for failure to maintain websites and kiosks that persons with visual impairments can use.
The Plaintiffs in the accessibility lawsuit against JetBlue Airways have filed a Notice of Appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Notice is the first step in their effort to reverse the District Court’s August 3, 2011 order that threw the case out of court.
The lawsuit is about JetBlue’s website and airport kiosks that are not accessible to people with visual impairments. The lower court ruled that California state law protecting the civil rights of persons with disabilities does not apply to airline websites and kiosks. The court’s ruling only applies to airline web sites and kiosks, and does not affect legal advocacy efforts seeking access to other websites or kiosks.
In a blow to the rights of people with disabilities in California and across the country, a second United States federal judge has ruled that state anti-discrimination laws do not apply to airline websites and kiosks. In a closely watched case against JetBlue Airways, Judge Joseph Spero ruled on August 3, 2011 that regulations issued by the United States Department of Transportation — no matter how weak and ineffective — strip away the rights California residents with visual impairments to access and use JetBlue’s website and airport kiosks.
The Judge threw the case out of court on the airline’s motion to dismiss. In doing so, he followed in the footsteps of another federal District Court Judge in California who ruled in April that because of the federal Department of Transportation’s actions, United Airlines was free to have airline check-in kiosks that cannot be used by people with disabilities.
At 9:30 in the morning on July 22, a courtroom in the federal building in San Francisco was filled with blind and visually impaired individuals. They had gathered to hear arguments about whether the accessibility case against JetBlue Airways should be thrown out of court. Judge Joseph Spero asked thoughtful questions and listened carefully to arguments on both sides of the case. He is expected to issue his ruling within the next ninety days. The lawsuit alleges that JetBlue has violated California law by maintaining a website and operating airport check-in kiosks that are inaccessible to individuals with visual impairments.