WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Advocates are celebrating a new rule from the Department of Transportation that will make airplane bathrooms more accessible. However, they’re hesitant, because travelers won’t see these changes immediately.
As a wounded veteran who uses a wheelchair, Charles Brown knows that for those with disabilities, flying often means going without access to a bathroom.
“It’s demeaning, it’s degrading. You have to dehydrate yourself so you don’t have to urinate,” Brown said.
Brown used to be the president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. He and the group have spent years advocating for accessibility on airplanes.
Now that’s happening. Under the new DOT rule, starting in three years, new planes will be required to have accessibility features like bathroom grab bars and call buttons. In 2033, new planes must expand their bathrooms.
“It’s a gamechanger. It allows more people with disabilities to fly,” Brown said.
Transportation Secretary Buttigieg says this is an important change.
“Americans with disabilities who deserve to travel with dignity will benefit from this rule. And then the rest of the country, communities, families, businesses, will benefit from having them there,” Buttigieg said.
Some advocates like Brown say they wish the transition was happening faster. But Secretary Buttigieg says the implementation takes time.
“You need to go through a lot of steps in terms of engineering, safety and design to make sure that it works,” Buttigieg said.
In the meantime, airlines have to improve their on-board wheelchairs and provide privacy screens so wheelchair uses can access the existing smaller bathrooms.
“Still try to be realistic and reasonable but really move the ball more quickly,” Buttigieg said.
Brown calls that meaningful progress.
“Things are happening now that make me think, ok accessibility is really going to happen on an aircraft,” Brown said.
Secretary Buttigieg says the change will have wide-ranging impacts.
“It’s a matter of fairness, and I think even a matter of economic strength,” Buttigieg said. “When we cut millions of Americans off from even having the option of flying, that means that they miss out on the opportunity and it means that the whole country misses out on what they might be able to contribute.”