Recently, the US Access Board released a set of proposed guidelines for the onboard wheelchairs that air carriers must provide to passengers who cannot use their personal wheelchairs in the cabin during flight. The guidelines are available to the public and, from now through October 21st, anyone can read them and submit their comments by email, regular mail, online through regulations.gov, or at an open meeting scheduled for September 12th.
Why is this public comment period so important? Why should people with disabilities, their families, and members of the rehabilitation community join in and add their voices? Here are a few reasons:
- Rules and regulations have an impact on you, your family, and your community, so it’s important that you have a say. Take the Access Board’s proposed guidelines on in-flight wheelchairs, for example. Aircraft manufacturers will use these guidelines to design the lavatories, aisles, and seats so that you, the wheelchair user, can fly safely and as comfortably as possible. Wheelchair manufacturers will use these guidelines to build these chairs so that they can be moved easily, fit in required spaces, and be stored efficiently, which flight crews will appreciate. Air carriers will develop training and policies based on these guidelines. Input from wheelchair users, rehabilitation engineers, assistive technologists, and flight personnel may all be valuable to writing comprehensive and usable guidelines that work for everyone.
- Lived experience matters. Guidelines and policies are written by people. They usually have deep working knowledge in the subject area for which they are writing; but they may not have the experience and knowledge of someone who lives with a disability. They may not have lived with, used, and traveled with a wheelchair, for example. They may not have tried to maneuver one of these onboard chairs into an airplane lavatory. Using your lived experience, you can answer their questions about the policies, guidelines, or rules that will affect you.
- Advocacy is empowering. Bernard Baker, from People First Georgia, points out that advocacy organizations like his help people with disabilities to understand that they have their own voice and the right to their own opinion, the right to speak that opinion and say what they feel! Advocacy and self-advocacy include participating in town meetings, testifying before councils and committees, and participating in public comment periods.
Are you ready to jump in and make your voice heard? Here are some resources to get you started:
- Regulation.gov shares some tips for submitting effective comments during public comment periods.
- We’ve covered advocacy, self-advocacy, and
participating in civil rights movements here in this blog:
- Learn about civil rights pioneer Ed Roberts and self-advocacy research and resources from the NIDILRR community and elsewhere.
- The NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living and Participation of Individuals with Serious Mental Illness offers a collection of citizenship resources, including Mental Health and Wellness Through Civic Participation: Why Your Opinion Matters.
- Hear more stories from self-advocates like Bernard Baker about their experiences fighting for civil rights at Self-Advocacy Online, hosted by the NIDILRR-funded Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota: http://www.selfadvocacyonline.org/stories/?story=28oF3kKZiA4
- Visit the Community Tool Box to learn advocacy skills to assess and address community needs. The Toolbox was developed at the University of Kansas (KU) and used by the NIDILRR-funded Research and Training Center on Community Living at KU for their Partners in Research Project. Learn more about the impact of this training with a center for independent living in Kansas that accomplished 38 changes in their community!
Your local Center for Independent Living (CIL) can also help you understand your rights, the state and federal laws that impact you and your family, and ways you can participate in advocacy in your community. Find a CIL near you!