National Aviation Accessibility Summit - May 9, 2024

Opening Remarks – Chair and CEO France Pégeot

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Good afternoon,
I am pleased to be with you today to discuss accessible air transportation for persons with disabilities.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has 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 protect the fundamental right of persons with disabilities to an accessible transportation network.

The Agency is simultaneously a tribunal and a regulator. Specifically, we are the economic regulator of the Canadian transportation system. As a regulator, we make and implement regulations. We also monitor compliance and enforce legislation and regulations.

We are also an administrative tribunal.

As such, we settle disputes between regulated industry stakeholders and users of the transportation system, as well as communities, either informally or formally through adjudication and other dispute resolution mechanisms.

Accessibility has always been and continues to be a priority for the Canadian Transportation Agency. Our approach to accessibility has always been comprehensive and focused on results. We possess a variety of tools—discussion, information, mediation, decisions, regulations and implementation—to achieve results. We strive to use the best tools to have an impact on the different situations that we are presented with.

Our most important regulations on accessibility, the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations (ATPDR), were developed out of previous CTA decisions, regulations and codes of practice, and came into force in phases between 2020 and 2022. The ATPDR apply to large transportation service providers. This includes major airlines, airport operators and organizations such as the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

The regulations provide a solid foundation and contain some unique provisions.

The regulations cover all stages of travel and apply to areas that have been identified by persons with disabilities as important to them. For example, the regulations establish communication requirements so that everyone receives important information during travel and can use automated self-service kiosks.

The regulations cover the essential services that ensure persons with disabilities have the assistance that they need to get from the airport’s door to the check-in area and to the boarding area, with baggage assistance if necessary.

They establish that equipment, infrastructure and accessible infrastructure that allow persons with disabilities to travel with dignity must be provided, they allow relief areas for service dogs, and lifts for safe transfers.

The regulations also require that anyone interacting with persons with disabilities, such as staff and their managers, is given proper training.

And they also cover the security and border screening processes, ensuring priority screening, support for completing forms, screening a person and their disability aid at the same time, or promptly return the disability aid if it requires separate screening.

Of course, while the Canadian regulatory framework for accessible transportation represents a strong foundation for accessibility, there is certainly room for improvement. We heard just this morning about potential improvements, and I want to note that some airlines have recently taken some measures tracking mobility aids, and establishing their own consultation mechanisms with persons with disabilities.

The Agency also monitors compliance with those regulations. The Agency, like other regulators, uses a variety of tools to achieve compliance, from more informal ways, for minor adjustments, to the issuing of fines or “administrative monetary penalties” for violations.

The Agency, as an administrative tribunal, also hears complaints from passengers that believe that a transportation service provider hasn’t respected its accessibility-related obligations. In many cases, the Agency is able to help resolve those complaints through an informal mediation process, while other complaints are adjudicated by Members of the Agency who are like administrative judges. Additionally, the Agency may award compensation for pain and suffering and compensation if an undue barrier or contravention of an accessibility-related regulation is the result of a willful or reckless practice.

The Agency believes in the principle “Nothing about us without us” which is at the heart of improving the situation for persons with disabilities and we strive to behave accordingly. This is one of the reasons we established our Accessibility Advisory Committee which includes representatives of both persons with disabilities and industry, and provides a useful vehicle to receive advice and to share information.

As a regulator, we believe that we need to engage regularly with all stakeholders and that our “power to convene” and bringing together representatives of people with disabilities, industry and government organizations is a tool that can be very effective to deliver transportation accessibility results and outcomes.

Because of the nature of air travel, important work is required internationally, across borders, to provide a consistent accessible air travel experience for passengers.

In 2019, we established and led an international working group that provided recommendations on the safe storage and transportation of mobility aids, and followed that up with a research project with the National Research Council in 2022. Much of this work was incorporated in 2023 into IATA’s policy guidance to its member airlines on the transportation of mobility aids.

Similarly, in 2022, we led an international working group on special service request codes, SSR codes. These are the codes associated with a passenger’s electronic file to share information about accommodations that may be required. That working group developed recommendations for IATA and its members on how to improve the consistency of SSR codes between airlines.

Currently, we are leading a working group on accessibility at ICAO – the International Civil Aviation Agency – which is in the process of finalizing a compendium of the regulations, standards and best practices of Member States. We think this compendium will be an important tool in encouraging the adoption by states of the most innovative accessibility regulations developed by others.

The Agency will continue to champion change to the culture in transportation systems. Providing “accommodation” is not enough, all programs, services and equipment should be developed with an accessibility lens from the outset, and only then would an accommodation be necessary if there is still a barrier. A collective challenge is to go beyond the notion of “accommodation”. A culture of accessibility is built on the principle that inclusion is not just a goal to be achieved but a fundamental value for all aspects of organizational life.

The Agency is committed to accessibility and looks forward to continuing to work with all interested people and organization to advance this important goal both in Canada and internationally.

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