14 CFR Part 382 Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel (Air Carrier Access Act): Preamble and Section-by-Section Analysis (with amendments issued through July 2010)
The Foreign Carriers NPRM proposed that carriers operating aircraft with 19 or more passenger seats must train its personnel to proficiency concerning ACAA requirements and providing services to passengers with disabilities. One element of the carrier’s training efforts would be to consult with organizations representing persons with disabilities in developing training programs. Refresher training to maintain proficiency would also be required. Complaints resolution officials (CROs) would have to be trained in their duties by the effective date of the rule. Training for current employees would generally have to be accomplished within one year. New crewmembers would have to be trained before starting their duties, and other new employees would have to be trained within 60 days of starting their duties. For foreign carriers, training requirements would apply only to employees who are involved with flights to and from U.S. points. Carriers would incorporate procedures implementing Part 382 requirements into their manuals, but they would not need to submit these materials or a certification of compliance to DOT for review.
Disability community commenters generally supported the proposed training requirements, though several said that U.S. carriers were not providing adequate training. Some commenters said that they had rarely, if ever, encountered carrier personnel who, when asked, recalled getting ACAA training. Some of these commenters, as well as some carriers, asked for a stronger DOT role in providing training (e.g., preparing a training curriculum, developing training materials, or providing funding for training). One association representing foreign carriers suggested a forum at which carriers and the Department could discuss implementation issues before the effective date of the rule.
Some foreign carriers mentioned that they already had disability-related training programs for their employees, and suggested that these programs should be recognized as equivalent to the proposed requirements. A few foreign carriers said that the proposed training time frames were too short. Other foreign carriers objected to training their employees to meet U.S. requirements, since they already trained their personnel to meet applicable requirements of their home countries. Several of these commenters particularly objected to consulting with disability groups, some suggesting that the requirement should be waived if they could not find a local disability group to consult. (Disability groups expressed different views on this point, most suggesting such a waiver was unnecessary because the U.S.-based staff of the airline could consult with U.S. groups if necessary, while another group suggested such a waiver could be acceptable if the carrier showed it had made good faith efforts to consult.) An association of U.S. carriers cautioned that any waiver available to foreign carriers should also be available to U.S. carriers.
The Department regards thorough training of carrier personnel who interact with passengers with disabilities as vital to good service to those passengers and to compliance with the ACAA. We recognize that many foreign carriers already have disability-related training programs. Since specific ACAA requirements do not yet apply to these carriers, it is very likely that these training programs would need to be amended, for those personnel who serve flights to and from the U.S., in order to ensure that the personnel understand ACAA requirements. Personnel serving U.S.-related flights would not have to be retrained from scratch, only provided additional training on ACAA-specific matters. To respond to concerns about the time it would take to train employees, the final rule provides foreign carriers a year from the effective date of the rule to complete the process. Since there will be a year between publication of the final and its effective date, any carriers still concerned about the length of training time frames can get a head start by beginning to train employees during the year prior to the effective date.
While U.S. disability groups can undoubtedly be a useful resource for both U.S. and foreign carriers, we do not believe it would be realistic to require foreign carriers to seek out U.S. disability groups for consultation (in many cases, U.S.-based personnel of these carriers would be operations staff, not management and training officials). Consequently, we have modified the language of this provision to refer to seeking disability groups in the home country of the airline. If home country disability groups are not available, a carrier could consult individuals with disabilities or international organizations representing individuals with disabilities. We do not believe that a waiver provision is needed, since it is unlikely that a carrier would be completely unable to find anyone – home country or international disability groups, individuals with disabilities – with whom to consult. As a matter of enforcement policy, however, the Department would take into consideration a situation in which a carrier with an otherwise satisfactory training program documented it had made good faith efforts to consult but was unable to find anyone with whom to consult.
The Department has posted a model training program based on the current Part 382 at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/training/index.htm, and we will consider whether it would be useful to produce additional training materials. Our staff have long experience in working with carriers on training and compliance issues, and they will continue to work with both U.S. and foreign carriers on training-related issues. We believe the idea of one or more forums to discuss implementation issues in the interval between the publication and effective dates of the rule is a good one, and we are now planning to hold such a meeting in June 2008.
We understand the concern of disability group commenters that some carrier personnel do not seem to have been trained to proficiency or at all. In an industry environment in which there is considerable personnel turbulence, carriers and the Department must both be vigilant to ensure that training takes place as required.
Because of the concern that some carrier employees may not be current in their knowledge of ACAA requirements, the final rule will require refresher training at least every three years. Carriers will have to develop a program for this purpose. Refresher training is intended to assist employees in maintaining proficiency, both by reminding them of ACAA requirements and their carriers’ procedures for implementing them and by providing updated information about new developments, additional guidance etc. While the Department will not require such programs to be submitted for approval, carriers will be required to retain records concerning both initial and refresher training, including the instructional materials and individual employee training records, for three years. These records will be subject to inspection by the Department.
We also think that it is important to understand the relationship between compliance with the “trained to proficiency” requirement and compliance with other provisions of the rule. In the Department’s view, a pattern or practice by a carrier of noncompliance with operational provisions of the ACAA rule (e.g., wheelchair stowage in the cabin, boarding or connecting assistance) may reveal that the carrier’s personnel have not been trained to proficiency with respect to the provision in question. Training to proficiency seems inconsistent, on its face, with systemic mistakes in providing required accommodations. Consequently, where the Department sees widespread implementation problems, our staff may also examine the adequacy of the carrier’s training, and we may take enforcement action and require corrective action in the carrier’s training activities.
Carriers generally supported the proposal to not require submission of material in manuals and procedures to DOT for review. The Department believes, based on the experience of reviewing carrier submissions at the time the original Part 382 went into effect, that mandating such submissions is not productive, so we will not impose such a requirement. Some disability community commenters supported the idea of submitting certificates of compliance. However, the Department believes that doing so would result in increasing information collection burdens without giving the Department a significant additional amount of information about carriers’ actual compliance status. We believe it is sufficient for the Department to be able to review materials carriers have on file as part of our compliance and enforcement process.
In the DHH NPRM, we proposed to require carriers to train their employees to recognize the requests for communication accommodation by passengers with impaired vision or hearing and to use the most common methods that are readily available for communicating with these passengers. The required training would be for proficiency in basic visual and auditory methods for communicating with passengers whose disabilities affect communication. We explained that we were not proposing to require carriers to train their employees to use sign language. Rather, employees would be trained in methods that are readily mastered and of which one or more can be used as required to communicate with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing (e.g., handwritten notes). We solicited comment on whether the terms “common methods” and “readily available” give carriers sufficient guidance for complying fully with this training requirement. We also solicited comment on what kind of training would meet the requirement and on the effect, feasibility, and necessity of expanding the proposal to require that employees also be trained to communicate with deaf-blind individuals.
The carriers and carrier associations that filed comments generally characterized the proposed requirements as far too vague and potentially too costly. Most objected to requiring training for all personnel and contractors that deal with the traveling public. One carrier suggested that a better approach would be to train all personnel to better awareness of communications needs and give carriers discretion to choose how to satisfy those needs—for example, by ensuring that proficient communicators can be made available on short notice. Foreign carriers generally argued that any training requirement should only apply to their employees in the United States. One carrier association noted that a person without training would naturally resort to writing to communicate with a deaf person and wondered what more would be taught in formal training. One carrier questioned the existence of universally established or internationally accepted methods in which to train carrier personnel. RAA asked that training requirements not apply to aircraft carrying 30 or fewer passengers and that training to communicate with deaf-blind individuals not be required.
The individuals and disability organizations that filed comments all supported training requirements. One organization argued that training in sign language should be required as well as training in how to operate any technology used to provide visual access—for example, captioning controls on video monitors or LCD terminals. One individual called for carrier personnel to be trained in how to handle people with service or guide dogs, including not to pet or feed the dogs. One organization maintained that trainers of carrier personnel should be individuals with hearing loss and that they should focus on imparting an understanding of the barriers that deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind passengers face. This organization also suggested that effective communication might involve visual communication, appropriate seating arrangements, lighting to ensure a clear line of sight to visual information displays, and attention-getting techniques such as gentle tapping on the shoulder.
In the final rule, we are retaining the proposed training requirement with some clarification and one addition. Carriers must train those employees who come into contact with passengers whose hearing or vision is impaired or who are deaf-blind both to recognize these passengers’ requests for accommodation in communicating and to communicate with these passengers in ways that are common and readily available. For example, employees should be able to communicate with passengers whose hearing or vision is impaired via written notes or clear enunciation, respectively. We are adding a requirement that the training also cover deaf-blind passengers. Examples of communication accommodations for the latter include passing out Braille cards (which this rule does not require), reading any information sheet that a passenger provides, and communicating with the passenger through an interpreter. Given that what we are requiring is fairly rudimentary, the training costs should not be high, nor should compliance otherwise be burdensome.