Different Abilities, Same Humanity, Features, Special Projects / Topics

Commercial travel presents huge challenges for people with different abilities

In an effort to make air travel more accessible to everyone, the U.S. Department of Transportation asked for public comment last month on a proposed rule that would require all single-aisle airplanes with 125 or more passenger seats to include a bathroom big enough to accommodate people in wheelchairs and people requiring assistance from an extra person.

In 2018, it was widely reported that lavatories on some of the newer model Boing 737 Max airplanes are only 24 inches wide, making it hard for almost anyone to fit inside them comfortably. As operating costs rise, airlines are attempting to squeeze as many passengers as possible into their planes. An extra-large lavatory would be taking up space for seats.

Commercial airplanes are so cramped and the lavatories so small, many people with different abilities find it nearly impossible to travel. (Photo by Suhyeon Choi on UnSplash)

Airplane bathrooms are so small that adults traveling with young children have an especially hard time. Katrina Graham, a local mother of two, described what it’s like. “My experience is, when you are a single adult traveling with two children [a toddler and an infant], it is damn near impossible,” Graham said.

Graham added that having to hold a toddler steady and use the bathroom while also holding a baby on your lap in that tiny space is beyond difficult. “I would rather not even go to the bathroom at all,” she said.

For people with different abilities, traveling can be far worse, as airplane bathrooms may be off limits entirely. 

Wheel the World, a self-described “one stop shop” for people traveling with disabilities, provides many different resources to help people and their families “explore without limits.”

Alvaro Silberstein, CEO and co-founder of Wheel the World, poses while traveling. (Photo courtesy of Wheel the World)

Alvaro Silberstein is the organization’s founder and CEO. He said he is all in favor of enlarging airplane bathrooms. “For people with mobility challenges, going to the restroom while on the plane can be a real challenge, so it’s important to go to the bathroom before boarding the plane. It could be extremely helpful to expand airplane bathrooms, so they have enough space for a person accompanying another person with disabilities,” Silberstein said.

And accessibility challenges for people with different abilities extend well beyond the tiny bathrooms. “One of the main obstacles for travelers with disabilities is lack of detailed accessibility information readily available online. This detailed information is needed for a person with mobility issues to confidently book any travel service,” Silberstein said. Knowing the height of a bed in a hotel room, for example, is crucial for someone in a wheelchair, and a blind person might need to understand ahead of time a hotel’s check-in process and concierge hours.

“For people with mobility challenges, going to the restroom while on the plane can be a real challenge, so it’s important to go to the bathroom before boarding the plane. It could be extremely helpful to expand airplane bathrooms, so they have enough space for a person accompanying another person with disabilities.”

And if traveling isn’t expensive enough, there can be a lot of extra costs for people with different abilities. “There can be increased costs associated with traveling as a person with a disability. For example, reserving a plane seat with extra room can cost extra. Checking mobility equipment on planes can cost extra, as opposed to just carrying items onto the plane,” Silberstein said.

According to Silberstein, it isn’t all bad, and traveling is becoming more accessible to everyone as the years pass. “It’s helpful that today when a person with disabilities books a flight online, airlines request information from people who may need accessibility accommodations and other special assistance. In my experience, I have found it’s important to be clear and thorough with the information provided to the airlines about what is needed,” Silberstein said.

 

 

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