ICAO Facilitation 2024 Global Summit - May 22

Opening remarks: Panel on accessibility in International Civil Aviation

Check Against Delivery

I am the Chair and CEO of the Canadian Transportation Agency. I would like to thank ICAO for organizing the conference and for inviting me and to thank Saudi Arabia for hosting this conference. I came a bit earlier and took a few days in Riyadh, a great historical city.

I will begin my remarks with a brief presentation of my organization, and will then address three subjects:

  • Accessible transportation in Canada;
  • What we see as the key current accessibility related challenges; and
  • Where we go from here, particularly from an international perspective.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is both the economic regulator of the transportation industry and an administrative tribunal with the power of a court.

We have three main responsibilities:

  1. We help ensure that the national transportation system runs efficiently and smoothly in the interests of all Canadians.
  2. We provide consumer protection for air passengers
  3. And we have the mandate to protect the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to an accessible transportation network. This applies largely to air transportation.

Accessible Transportation in Canada

Accessibility is a priority for the Agency and for Canada and in 2019 Canada passed a legislation the Accessible Canada Act with the goal of making Canada barrier-free for people with disabilities by 2040.

Full and equal participation in contemporary life is not possible if, because of a disability, you can't get from your home to your work, to visit with family and friends or to travel domestically or internationally. Transportation connects us to each other and to the world and the "us", should include everyone.

To advance on its accessibility mandate, the Agency has at its disposal a variety of tools: from formal ones, like the making and enforcement of regulations and issuing decisions on complaints, to informal ones, such as the provision of information and guidance material.

The Canadian Accessible Transportation for Persons With Disabilities Regulations came into force in phases between 2020 and 2022 and apply to large airlines, airports and government. These world-leading regulations cover all steps of the travel journey and apply to the areas that persons with disabilities told us matter to them, like the need for accessible communications, services, equipment and infrastructure, and the provision of training to airline and airport staff.

They also include some provisions that are not found anywhere else, such as, the requirement to provide allergy buffer zones and the "one person-one fare" requirement for domestic travel meaning that transportation service providers are required to provide an extra adjacent seat free of charge to a person who needs one to accommodate their accessibility needs.

Finally we believe strongly in the principle “Nothing about us without us”. Engagement with them is at the heart of improving the situation for persons with disabilities. This is one of the reasons we established our own Accessibility Advisory Committee which includes over 40 representatives of both persons with disabilities and industry.

Current Challenges

We believe we have a strong regulatory foundation and there is no doubt that over the past decades the accessibility of the transportation system has improved. It is also clear that Canadian transportation service providers are continuing to take action to make further improvements. However, despite the advances, we recognize that a lot remains to be done to create a fully accessible and barrier free system.

I would highlight three main areas for improvement based on our own experiences, observations and feedback from persons with disabilities.

First, we continue to see far too many incidents of lost or damaged wheelchairs. These and other mobility aids are not just luggage, they are an extension of the person. This is one of the main reasons of complaints from people with disabilities.

Second, there continues to be issues with inadequate services and assistance being provided to persons with disabilities. We believe that one of the key solutions is to ensure employees in the transportation industry have the appropriate training to provide assistance to persons with disabilities. This is critical as there has been a lot of new employees hired since the end of COVID. The Ministers of Transport and of Accessibility held a national Transportation Accessibility Summit two weeks ago and were told by people with disabilities that there has been a decrease in services since COVID. Training could contribute to not only alleviate specific issues, but also to build inclusive organizational cultures where employees are sensitive to the needs and realities of persons with disabilities.

And third, and somewhat related to both of the previous points, persons with disabilities experience issues related to inconsistency in accommodation in the air transportation system, which creates uncertainty for them and adds to their stress associated with traveling.

We believe to make real progress we must all work together and most importantly directly with persons with disabilities. This includes at the international level, and across borders, where we can work to provide a consistent accessible air travel experience for everyone. This is where conferences like today's, organizations like ICAO, and the cooperation of all the Member states with us today, are crucial.

Where to go from here and International Cooperation

Since its inception in 1944, ICAO has played a key role in bringing its members together to co-operate, to share, and to build a stronger global civil aviation system. Through the establishment and maintenance of international Standards and Recommended Practices in particular, the world has been able to benefit from key improvements in areas that are important to us all, including safety, security, efficiency, economic development, and environmental protection.

In Canada, we value international cooperation.

We believe that ICAO has an important role to play, as we look to overcome the challenges in accessibility I have outlined. We believe that accessibility has to become a key priority for ICAO in the future.

We are not starting from zero. ICAO's facilitation panel has already undertaken and continues to pursue important projects related to accessibility and I want to thank them for that work. As we look forward, however, I would like to propose three key areas where we can look to take action.

As a first step we should continue to work together to finalize an ICAO compendium of the regulations, standards and best accessibility practices around the world which we hope will encourage their wider adoption. The Canadian one person – one fare regulation, is an example of regulations that would be identified in the compendium, that, could then be considered by other states. Having an understanding of what currently exists and what are some of the best practices from around the world will be a good starting point for alignment and progress. I encourage ICAO members and the ICAO secretariat to continue to support this important project so that the compendium can be finalized, shared and promoted.

Secondly, I look forward to continuing to work with ICAO on the development of a long-term holistic plan on accessibility that will touch on all parts of the air travel journey; from booking and check-in, clearing airport security, boarding, inflight experience, disembarking, navigating airports and making connecting flights, and up until the passenger leaves the airport.

The goal is to have an ambitious, but achievable path forward at the global level that will deliver concrete results for people with disability. It is our hope this is a project that will receive support from the other Member states.

It is also important for ICAO to consider accessibility when developing policies and procedures for matters beyond facilitation as the impacts on an accessible transportation network are far reaching. For example, security measures may have specific impacts on persons with disabilities that should be considered.

And finally, as we are developing this global strategy, and particularly in the short term, I would encourage that Standards and Recommended Practices, or Guidance material place a special focus on mobility aids and training. Substantive progress in these two areas would drastically improve air travel for many persons with disabilities.

I want to note here an example where by working together we have produced concrete results. A few years ago, Canada established an on international working group on mobility aids and its recommendations were used by IATA to develop its Guidance on the Transport of Mobility Aids in 2023. More action is required.

By working together collaboratively, we can improve the lives of people with disabilities. ICAO is a natural forum for such work and for sharing and building on the individual successes of ICAO members. Accessibility is a human right and should be a priority and a commitment.

I encourage everyone here today to press forward with renewed vigor in their work on accessibility and in the implementation of the Resolution on Accessibility in International Civil Aviation ensuring passengers with disabilities have access to safe, reliable and dignified travel.

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