The US Department of Transportation is proposing to implement a series of new rules around accessibility to air travel information.
The set of regulations, if approved, will have a wide ranging effect across travel technology, meaning if companies should start preparing impact as soon as possible.
The web and self service technology are at the heart of air travel today. But this has created a series of obstacles for those with disabilities.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the basis for a wide range of rules that govern access for those with disabilities in order to give as much equal access to those who have some form of disability.
The original law was passed in 1990 and was a significant piece of legislation, one might argue, akin to the enactment of broad civil rights legislation such as de-segregation and the emancipation of women.
The law was updated in 2008, with the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) tackling issues of access to information and the concept of self service kiosks in transportation.
There are two specific titles which were updated and are relevant: Title II Public Entities (and public transportation) and Title IV Telecommunications. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing air travel websites, as well as automated airport check-in kiosks, be made accessible to people with disabilities.
So it is seeking input on a wide variety of topics:
- What should be the standards for web and kiosk accessibility?
- Which websites and kiosks should be covered?
- How long should companies be given to make the necessary changes?
- What form should the regulation take?
- How long before regulations can be implemented?
Curiously, the regulations are focussing on one particular sector of the industry – aviation.
But why stop with just air. What about hotels and cars. As more self service technology is implemented, perhaps the entire industry should adopt wide-ranging overhauls to their websites. Indeed, standards for accessibility should be common for all services to quicken development and provide uniformity across the industry.
The subject of accessibility for reservation agents was significantly enhanced in the 1980s with the advent of the PC. The combination of a braille based tablet for reading and a keyboard for input opened up the possibility for visually impaired agents to work in airline call centres.
However the move to graphical interfaces from the character-based systems worked against those who were visually impaired. Now the combination of sound and touch as interfaces has massively improved in recent years and the visually impaired better access â€“ enabling both the professional and consumer to work with the world of travel data.
But with the arrival of new forms of access and apps that are opening up mobile devices to so-called Big Data, perhaps it is time that the industry takes advantage of these developments to create better solutions for those with disabilities.
Developing systems that can access the same data and services, so there are no barriers to entry at a user level, is an admirable effort and the DoT should be applauded for this initiative.