About 1 billion people—15% of the world’s population—live with some form of disability.
The World Health Organization expects this number to rise due to aging populations, the spread of chronic diseases, better measurement tools and refinements in the definition of what constitutes a disability.
Of course, people with disabilities are also travelers. An Open Doors Organization market study from 2015 found that adults with disabilities spend $17.3 billion annually on their own travel. ODO said since these individuals typically travel with one or two other adults, the economic impact is at least doubled, to $34.6 billion.
But air travel poses a myriad of challenges for people with disabilities.
For example, between December 4 and December 31, 2018 (the first month the Department of Transportation required airlines to track this category) major U.S. carriers mishandled more than 700 wheelchairs and scooters, more than 2% of the 32,229 mobility devices loaded on airplanes.
“That’s 25 people a day who may have been stranded, unable to work or participate in a family activity,” said Chris Wood of Flying Disabled.
Noting that improving the air travel experience for people with disabilities is not only “the right thing to do,” but good for business, IATA also passed a resolution committing airlines worldwide to ensuring that passengers with disabilities have access to safe, reliable and dignified travel.
The industry trade group said its aim is to change the focus “from disability to accessibility and inclusion” by bringing the travel sector together with governments to “harmonize regulations and provide the clarity and global consistency that passengers expect.”
In its resolution, IATA says one option under consideration is developing standard practices worldwide for loading passengers’ mobility aids.
The resolution has the ability to enhance the passenger experience not only for people who currently have disabilities, but also for those in years to come, said Eric Lipp, founder and executive director of ODO Organization.
“Most importantly,” said Lipp.“This is the first time IATA has recognized this on an international level. And this is in good timing with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Globally the time is right.
Image credit: Photo by Author