Increasing Air Travel Accessibility
with Kendra E. Davenport of Easterseals
Nearly 25 million Americans with mobility issues face barriers to air travel.
Kendra E. Davenport, President and CEO of Easterseals, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to make flying more accessible.
November 30, 2023
Anderson: Flight delays, long lines at security checkpoints, lost baggage -- common headaches for air travelers. But for some people with disabilities, these inconveniences can be life-changing. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. In the first half of 2023, airlines lost or damaged more than 5,000 passenger wheelchairs and scooters. Advocates say losing access to these mobility devices is more than a minor inconvenience. It translates to a loss of independence. Joining us to discuss the impact of this, and how airlines can improve travel accessibility is Kendra Davenport. She is the President and C.E.O. of Easterseals. And Kendra, thank you so much for being here.
Davenport: Thanks for having me, Tetiana.
Anderson: So, clearly this is an issue, but there are now some assurances for people who are dealing with this. And it comes in the form of a assenger Bill of Rights. And it says in part, "the right to be treated with dignity and respect, the right to accessible airport facilities, the right to receive seating accommodations, the right to assistance at airports, and the right to a resolution of a disability-related issue." So, I'm wondering what else you've seen when it comes to what this population is facing when they get on a plane.
Davenport: The Passenger Bill Of Rights is a great first step, but we have a long way to go before air travel is truly accessible for people with disabilities. And it really is the entire air travel system that needs to change. Not just the airplanes, but the airports. About 70% of all disabilities are invisible, meaning they're not the people that you see in a wheelchair or using forearm crutches, but they're people with hearing impairments, vision impairments. For them, navigating a busy, loud, chaotic airport can create tremendous stress and inhibit their desire to travel. If you're in a wheelchair, the barriers are even more significant because most airplanes today are not equipped with accessible bathrooms. So, if you're going on a long flight, or even a short flight, and you can't access the restroom, how is air travel accessible for you? It's not.
Anderson: I would love for you to give our viewers some perspective on this. I mean, we're talking about real people. Is there a story that stands out that that you can share with us?
Davenport: There is. In the spring of 2023, Easterseals conducted a forum. We brought together disability advocates, legislators, and government officials. One who stands out is Kelly Bucklin. Kelly is the head of disability accessibility for the Department of Transportation. And he talked about some of his experiences with other folks who utilize wheelchairs. His experiences prevented him, for many years, from traveling excessively. And they prevent other people, like the ones we just talked about, who can't use a restroom, or who are so worried about their -- their wheelchair being damaged. And you talked about it being -- representing a loss of independence. It's much more. Many depend on their wheelchair to live, not just to get around. So, if that wheelchair is damaged or lost, their life is in danger.
Anderson: What kinds of things are Kelly and people like him actually doing to to make up for this problem? I mean, do they find themselves having to pre-prepare before getting on a plane?
Davenport: They absolutely do. Many fast, and they don't drink, because they don't want to have to use the restroom. But others just will not travel for fear that it's going to impact their health in a negative way. There is reason for hope, though. Airlines are making changes.
Anderson: Well, I'm wondering, you know, why is it, and what you're learning about why airline travel isn't as accessible as other forms of travel.
Davenport: The airlines were really given a pass when the ADA was passed 30 years ago. Other modes of transportation were mandated to make changes, like trains, busses, even cruise ships. The airlines didn't have to make those changes. They do now. And by 2035, all aircraft built will have to have accessible bathrooms, which is going to be a big game-changer.
Anderson: So how is Easterseals advocating on the airline issue on behalf of the population that you serve now? And what are your plans for the future?
Davenport: We're really motivating and urging legislators, airlines, air -- air manufacturers, and airports to look at the economic impact that not being accessible is really having, and instead, flip it, and think about how much more business we would be doing if everyone with a disability was able to access air travel. 61 million Americans travel every year in the United States. The US air travel market is the largest in the world. What we want to do is make it the most accessible in the world.
Anderson: So people are going to want to know more about this, Kendra. Where can they look?
Davenport: I advise them to go to our website, easterseals.com, for resources on accessible travel, and to learn more about what Easterseals And our partners are doing to make air travel more accessible for people with disabilities.
Anderson: Kendra Davenport, President and C.E.O. of Easterseals. Thank you for being here.
Davenport: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to you, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, just go to Comcastnewsmakers.com I'm Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪ ♪♪