Air Travel for the Deaf

Austin news channel KXAN reports on new technology in a San Antonio that will make it easier for the deaf when they’re at the airport. Deaf Link is an airport station that lets a deaf passenger connect with a Deaf Link interpreter through the Internet and communicate ith airport or security personnel.
But this is limiting because it’s only for those who know ASL. I doubt it would be easy to lipread the video just like it’s difficult to lipread people on TV. I know, I should be grateful that the airport is taking steps to help and I am.
Cheryl Heppner of NVRC also wrote about an action alert on accessible air travel last March. Here are the details from her email:


There is a saying that nothing good happens fast. If we hold the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on accessible air travel for deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind people to that standard, it should be very good indeed.
Consumer organizations for deaf, hard of hearing. late-deafened and deaf-blind persons, including NVRC, started pushing for this rulemaking in 1996. The Department of Transportation (DOT) deferred a decision about it in March 1998. Eventually, in August 2002, DOT set up a memorandum of understanding with the National Council on Disability to submit a proposal for a petition for rulemaking, which was accepted. A work group was set up and in July 2004 the petition was submitted. By the time the NPRM was published in the Federal Register on February 23, 2006, 10 years of effort had been invested.
There is some good news. The proposed rules include many of the things we have been asking for. But those accessibility features won’t happen unless you are open about your needs. You must tell the staff about your inability to hear information (and see it, if applicable) in the terminal and on the aircraft –at check-in, at the gate, on the plane, in the baggage area and elsewhere. [Meryl’s note: that’s what I do]
What’s In the Proposed Rules
The proposed rules include:
1. If an airline has telephone reservation and information lines, they must also have these services available by TTY. The TTY services must have a response time equal to that of voice callers. TTY calls must be accepted during the same hours as available for voice calls, and at no greater cost than to hearing callers.
2. Copies of the access rules for air carriers must be made available to the public on request at airports. Upon request, passengers must be given information on getting an accessible copy, such as in large print or braille, or getting disability-related assistance through the DOT Disability Hotline or DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
3. Airport terminals must display high-definition captioning (e.g. white letters on a black background) on the TVs and audiovisual displays providing safety briefings, information or entertainment in areas of public access such as lounges and gate areas. In areas like clubrooms that are restricted, the captioning feature must be turned on upon request.

Non-caption capable TVs or audiovisual displays must be replaced in the normal course of operation, or when substantial renovation or expansion is being done. Newly acquired TVs and audiovisual displays for passenger entertainment must have caption capability.
4. Airport terminals must provide the same information that hearing people receive, and provide it promptly to people who self-identify as needing it. This information can be provided through any medium, including white boards, handwritten notes, LCD display and pager. Among the kinds of information that would be included:
* Ticketing
* Flight delays
* Schedule changes
* Connections
* Gate assignments
* Checking and change of luggage
* “Aircraft changes”
* Flight cancellations
* Boarding information
* Volunteer solicitation on oversold flights
* Emergencies (fire, bomb threat, etc.)
5. Air carriers must get training in basic visual, auditory and tactile methods to communicate effectively with passengers.
6. Onboard the aircraft, all safety and information videos must be captioned. Safety briefings must be available with captions within 180 days after the effective date of the rule. Informational briefings must be available with captioning within 240 days after the effective date of the rule. All videos, DVDs, and other audiovisual displays for entertainment purposes must be captioned on new aircraft. The definition of new aircraft is those ordered after the date the rule becomes effective, or delivered two years after the effective date. For existing aircraft, if the cagin audiovisual equipment is being replaced after the effective date, the equipment must be caption capable.
7. Onboard information must be provided promptly. Examples of this include:
* Flight safety
* Procedures for takeoff and landing
* Delays
* Schedule or aircraft change
* Diversion to a different airport
* Scheduled departure and arrival times
* Boarding information?
* Weather conditions
* Beverage and menu information
* Connecting gate assignments
* Claiming of baggage
* Individuals being paged by the airline
* Aircraft changes that affect travel of people with disabilities
* Emergencies (fire, bomb, etc.)
8. Air carriers must train their personnel to recognize requests for communication accommodations by people with vision or hearing loss and us the most common methods that are readily achievable to communicate with them. This means communicating through basic visual and auditory methods. The carriers must consult with organizations representing persons with disabilities to develop their training program, policies and procedures. Refresher trainings are also mentioned.
Safety Assistants: An Unresolved Issue
A major access issue still unresolved in this rulemaking is that of requiring safety assistants to travel with people who have both vision and hearing loss. When these individuals identify themselves, air carrier staff are required to make reasonable attempts to accommodate them. The rulemaking asks for a definition of just what qualifies as a reasonable attempt. It also asks for comments on how “joint responsibility” for communication, shared by the carrier staff and the individual with vision and hearing loss, would work out in practice. The rulemaking proposes to clarify that a safety assistant would be provided at no cost to the passenger when the passenger’s self-assessment is that none is needed and that he or she can travel independently.
The Department of Transportation sought comments on these proposed rules last April. Though the date has passed, it’s still helpful to talk about your personal travel experiences.
Tell DOT what you like or don’t like about the rules, and how you’d change it. Mention anything you feel is important but missing from the proposed rules. Feel free to share your comments with us for possible inclusion in our “Readers Write” feature of the NVRC News.
View all documents related to docket number 2006-23999: Accommodations for Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind at the DOT web site. The docket has 14 pages of comments. Don’t see any updates other than the comments.
P.S. I worked for DOT in my first three years out of college. Great experience. Still keep in touch with a few people from there.

1 comment

    • anon on December 19, 2006 at 1:08 pm

    I don’t understand why they always want really complicated setups/solutions where it’s easy for the whole chain to break down.
    Put in a bunch of silent radio announcers by each gate/check in so that the updated info that’s being announced is mirrored in the display. Why futz around with setting up interpreters and all of that (especially as you note, many of the people who need some type of alternative won’t know ASL (at an airport, maybe it’s BSL or LSF!) when there are easier solutions that give the end user more independence (can do stuff on their own rather than relying on the presence of someone else (like a terp)).
    I’m not against terps per se, but they are time consuming, involved to set up and are not a good choice for rapid changes and flow in information.
    “Oh sorry, you missed your flight because it took us two hours to find someone who could tell you that it was changed to this other gate…”
    sigh.

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