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Communication Barriers

A Look at Barriers to Communication Facing Persons with Disabilities Who Travel by Air

Fall 1997

Available in braille and on audio cassette and computer disk.

VOICE: (819) 997-6828
TTY: (819) 953-9705
FAX: (819) 953-6019
Fall 1997
Copyright Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada
Catalogue Number TW3-21/1997-1
ISBN 0-662-63037-8


The Canadian Transportation Agency (Agency) is responsible for the economic regulation of the federal transportation sector. An important part of this function is to ensure that persons with disabilities can obtain access to the federally-regulated transportation system without encountering unnecessary or unjustified barriers.

Responding to consumer concerns, in 1996 and 1997, the Agency consulted with air carriers, airports and over 50 groups and individuals who represented persons with sensory or cognitive disabilities in order to better understand their communication needs while travelling by air. After analysing these findings, the Agency became convinced that there was an information gap. An Interim Report was issued highlighting these concerns and making recommendations to improve the communication of information to persons with sensory or cognitive disabilities.

Revisions were made in light of comments received on the Interim Report and a Final Report was produced. Here are the Agency's final recommendations with respect to the communication of information in air travel.


Consumer Awareness

During the consultations, a need was identified for a guide that would provide specific facts to assist persons with disabilities to become better informed consumers when they are travelling by air.

1. The Agency recommends that a guide for travellers with disabilities be produced.

The air industry and other government departments have agreed to work in collaboration with the Agency to prepare such a guide.

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Alternative Format Policy

The lack of travel-related information available in alternative formats was raised as a concern by respondents. The Agency believes that all air carriers and airport operators should make their best effort to increase accessibility to all audio and visual transportation-related information.

2. The Agency recommends that all air carriers and airport operators outline in a clear and concise Alternative Format Policy, how they will provide to persons with disabilities information that is otherwise available to the general public.

Personal Help

Throughout the consultations, participants indicated that personal help from transportation personnel was considered invaluable. Improvements in access to information technology were not considered a replacement for the availability of personal help.

3. The Agency recommends that the industry continue to provide personal services currently offered to travellers with disabilities.

4. The Agency recommends that the industry establish quality control mechanisms to ensure that consistent, reliable service is provided to travellers with disabilities.

5. The Agency recommends that, when preparing refresher training, emphasis be placed on the importance of personnel having a working knowledge of services and policies offered by air carriers or terminal operators to travellers with disabilities, including communication of information issues.

6. The Agency recommends that persons with disabilities be involved in refresher training sessions.

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Elimination of the "No-Man's Land"

Many respondents were concerned about the "no-man's land" between the terminal's main entrance and their carrier's ticket counters. The Agency believes this gap is creating a major obstacle to the travel of persons with disabilities and that practical solutions exist to overcome this problem.

7. The Agency recommends that airport and air carrier personnel work together to close the gap between the terminal's main entrance and the carrier's ticket counter.

New Developments/Technological Changes

The pace of innovation within the travel industry means that new systems and procedures are constantly being introduced. Electronic ticketing is a good example.

8. When developing new technologies or facilities, or upgrading existing technologies or facilities, the Agency recommends that the needs of persons with disabilities be addressed to facilitate accessibility.

Involvement of Persons with Disabilities

During the consultations, several participants raised the issue of the need to involve persons with disabilities when designing or developing services dedicated to them.

9. The Agency recommends that air carriers and airport operators formally involve persons with disabilities when developing services or finding solutions to better serve persons with disabilities.

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Physical Accessibility of Airports

Concerns were voiced by respondents that some airports may renovate their facilities and proceed with the installation of flight information monitors which are difficult to access.

10. The Agency recommends that no new flight information monitors be installed which are above eye level and which do not have significant colour contrast, large print or use audio-echo technology.

Public Address Announcements

During the course of the interviews, the need to improve communications in the terminal was a recurrent theme. The anxiety created by not being able to easily communicate with personnel at counters, not hearing the announcements, or not understanding where a service is located were mentioned on several occasions.

11. The Agency recommends that every point of contact between the terminal employees and the public be equipped with dedicated pen and paper to ensure that communication is facilitated with travellers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

12. The Agency recommends that public address announcements be improved by speaking more clearly, more slowly and repeating the message.

13. The Agency recommends that any announcement about airport services also include a description of the service location.

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Terminal Information

Many participants believed that terminals were the most stressful part of a trip. It was mentioned that having access to advance information about an airport could contribute significantly to increasing the level of confidence and independence of travellers with disabilities.

14. The Agency recommends that airport operators provide advance information about terminal layouts and that this information be available in alternative formats.

TTYs and Volume-Controlled Phones

The Agency believes that having access to TTYs and volume-controlled phones is essential for travellers with disabilities.

15. The Agency recommends that airport operators ensure that an adequate number of public TTYs and volume-controlled phones are available, in both the public area and the arrival and departure area, 24-hours a day.

16. The Agency recommends that personnel be fully aware of the location of such TTYs and volume-controlled phones, and that these phones be properly indicated by appropriate signage.


Self-Identification (of a disability)

The Agency believes that the benefits to the traveller of clearly expressing prior to travel the services that will be required, are not yet known to many travellers with disabilities.

17. The Agency recommends that air carriers actively promote understanding among travellers with disabilities of what services are available for persons with disabilities, as well as the benefits of self-identification.

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Itineraries in Alternative Formats

The need for a plain language travel itinerary, available upon request in alternative formats was mentioned repeatedly by participants throughout the consultations.

18. The Agency recommends that air carriers start providing itineraries and individual travel information in plain language with minimal use of codes and acronyms.

19. The Agency recommends that itineraries and individual travel information be made available in the appropriate alternative format.

Air carriers are encouraged to work in concert with their travel agents to facilitate this change.

General Announcements and Individual Communications

Air carriers also need to increase the accessibility of announcements and communication with passengers in airports.

20. The Agency recommends that air carriers ensure that dedicated pen and paper are available at every check-in counter to facilitate communication with travellers who are deaf or hard of hearing; that they ensure public address announcements are clearly enunciated, made more slowly and repeated; and that they include a description of the service location.

21. The Agency recommends that, if passengers request it, air carriers use well-contrasted markers to write down the boarding gate number in large characters for those who have difficulties reading the information on boarding passes or else use a tactile mark, to facilitate their identification.

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Problems as a result of miscommunication in the security area were reported. Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing related that they cannot hear when the security alarm beeps, and are often unsure of whether or not they can proceed to their gate.

22. The Agency recommends that security personnel use both audio and visual means to indicate whether or not travellers can proceed to their boarding area after passing through the magnetometer.

Reserve Seating At Boarding Gates

The Agency was informed that additional stress was generated for many passengers with disabilities by not being able to hear or see the boarding announcements or changes to flight schedules.

23. The Agency recommends that air carriers designate reserved seating at boarding gates for passengers with disabilities.

Orientation Within the Aircraft

The need to have a better description of the aircraft features, such as the location of the washroom and orientation inside the washroom, as well as a description of the control mechanisms located at the passenger seat were requested by respondents.

24. The Agency recommends that upon request, air crews verbally give information about the operational features of the aircraft to passengers with disabilities, supplemented with written information where possible.

A dialogue concerning safety issues is currently underway between persons who are deaf-blind and the industry. The results of these discussions will provide a good foundation for commencing a review of service issues of concern to travellers who are deaf-blind.

25. The Agency recommends that the Air Transport Association of Canada sponsor an industry focus group to discuss customer service issues of concern to travellers who are deaf-blind.

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As one of the mechanisms to facilitate implementation of these recommendations, the Agency has decided to form working groups to tackle specific issues. Four distinct working groups will draft a guide for travellers with disabilities, a Generic Alternative Format Policy, and address the issues of producing a policy document for assistive communication devices and guidelines for new technologies.

Each working group will be composed of representatives from: consumer groups of and for persons with disabilities, the airline industry, an airport authority or airport group, and when necessary a representative from a manufacturer, and/or representatives from other government departments.

The Agency acknowledges that work is being done on research and development issues associated with In-Cabin Information Technologies and Electronic and Audible Signage Standards. This work is being coordinated by Transport Canada's Transportation Development Centre (TDC) with Agency staff participation.


The Agency has decided to actively monitor the voluntary implementation of these recommendations to air carriers and airport operators.

The Agency is confident that this plan of action which combines the monitoring of improvements to the communication of information to persons with sensory or cognitive disabilities, with the establishment of working groups to stimulate discussions between affected parties, along with continued goodwill which has been demonstrated by participants to date, will provide the basis for significant improvements in the transportation network for persons with cognitive or sensory disabilities.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of the Final Report, please contact us at the numbers listed inside the front cover. The Report may also be accessed via the Agency's Web site (

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