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understanding of blindness and acceptance on terms of equality
for all of our citizens who are blind.
I feel we have made great
progress, but much remains to be done.
Our nation's laws
governing travel and the use of public accommodations by the
handicapped lack specific mandates or are otherwise a patchwork
quilt to the extent that they exist at all.
I have already
mentioned the White Cane Laws which exist in many states.
following states have enacted most provisions of our model law or
reasonable facsimiles thereof:
Arizona, California, Colorado,
District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana,
Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New
Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South
Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
from this model and a few other laws which now exist in the
several states, there is no generally applicable, universal
mandate designed to ban discrimination on the basis of blindness
or handicap in the use of travel facilities and public
Mr. Chairman, we are badly in need of such a mandate.
regulation (or failure to regulate) discrimination in the
commercial aviation industry in our country is a classic example
of why Congress should step in now to provide an overall federal
A little over ten years ago, the Civil Aeronautics
Board (CAB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were
asked by some groups representing the handicapped to make
regulations which would prohibit discrimination.
We were not
part of this.
By and large blind people were being left alone
and were, for the most part, treated respectfully and without
restriction by the airlines.
But, handicapped persons
(particularly those using wheelchairs) were having difficulty. Some were refused air travel altogether. This was wrong.
The upshot of it all was that in April, 1977, the FAA made
More accurately, the FAA purported to make some
You will find the rule or purported rule to which I am
Here is a rule which was supposed to be intended to
eliminate or reduce discrimination on the basis of handicap.
exists today as the most comprehensive rule (if you can call it a
rule) on discrimination against the handicapped in air travel.
So, here it is, "Authority to Refuse Transportation."
Sadly, and to our disadvantage, the weaknesses of this
purported rule do not stop with its title.
14 CFR 121.586 says
that no air carrier may refuse to transport a handicapped person
unless the carrier has procedures for providing transportation to
handicapped persons, and the person in question cannot be carried
in accordance with the airline's procedures, or if the person
fails to comply with the notice requirements which may be stated
in the procedures.
If either circumstance occurs--that is, (1)
the handicapped person cannot be carried in accordance with the
airline's procedures, or (2) the handicapped person fails to
comply with the airline's notice requirements--the carrier has
authority under 121.586 to refuse transportation; in other words,
Notice how the FAA completely ducked the opportunity which
it had in making these rules to articulate a consistent, clear,
and universally applicable federal policy.
The rule does not
identify prohibited conduct and places no restraint upon airline
discretion in making the procedures, other than the fact that if
they exist they must be filed with the FAA.
no protection, because the FAA has not established any criteria
or parameters for evaluating the procedures which are filed by
Moreover, we suspect FAA does not evaluate the
procedures at all. You might asked them to explain their process for doing so and to identify which, if any, procedures have ever
been rejected and for what reasons.
I predict that the
inevitable result of such questioning will be the conclusion that
FAA is not regulatino discrimination on the basis of handicap in
the commercial aviation industry.
Its regulations merely grant
authority to refuse transportation on the basis of handicap,
provided certain conditions are met and the airlines determine
As for the CAB, it has taken a similar lack luster approach
to prohibiting discrimination on the basis of handicap.
the CAB does have regulations on this subject (14 CFR Part 382)
but these have limited applicability.
A principal problem
relates to a very narrow definition of what constitutes "federal
We have argued that, since air carriers
receive the services of federal personnel (both FAA and CAB), all
airlines are recipients of federal financial assistance.
However, the current position of the regulators is that
assistance must be tied strictly to grants or payments of money,
as in the case of subsidized air routes.
Even more, it has been
argued that on routes other than those that are subsidized, an
air carrier is not a recipient of federal financial assistance.
This narrow view results in a lack of federal jurisdiction (you
might say, a convenient lack of jurisdiction) over most carriers
under most circumstances.
After all, if there is no
jurisdiction, there is no power to regulate discrimination and the airlines are free to adopt and exercise their own policies
with minimal federal oversight or intrusion.
This in a nut shell is the current status of the law on
prohibiting discrimination against blind and handicapped people
in air travel.
The lack of a consistent and clearly articulated
federal policy has fostered uncertainty, tension, and in some instances even hostility on the part of airlines in their dealings with blind and handicapped people. We have been forced
to litigation in several instances.
But, these confrontations
could have been avoided or certainly minimized if there had been
stronger federal leadership by the agencies responsible for
safeguarding the interests of the public, including blind and
handicapped taxpaying citizens.
Nor have such difficulties been
limited strictly to commercial aviation.
Cruise ships, lodging
places, eating establishments, and amusement parks have also on
occasion sought to block our entry or otherwise to limit our
Occurrences of this sort are admittedly less
common than the acts of discrimination which take place in
commercial air travel.
However, a comprehensive federal policy
should address the entire spectrum of the travel industry, both
transportation and public accommodations.
Mr. Chairman, our experience in utilizing the White Cane
Laws in the states which have them has been enormously successful
and might well be instructive in charting a course of action at the federal level. Most significant of all is the fact that the
White Cane Laws have served us well as a shield against
discrimination, as a sort of preventative barrier.
Seldom has it
been necessary for us to resort to litigation under these
We have found the travel industry to be capable of
responding positively when we could show that a law exists to
But, in all too many instances which still occur
today, we remain unable to make this showing.
When we are left
unprotected by a mandate from Congress or a state or local
legislative body, the results which can be achieved by negotiation or attempts to persuade are far more doubtful and
often not satisfactory.
When we talk of discrimination on the basis of blindness or
handicap in the travel industry, I want to be clear with you
about what we mean.
In its essential terms, the word
"discrimination" as used in connection with human rights and the
repression of minorities or women means unreasonable and
It implies, of course, prejudice,
denial of opportunity, unequal treatment, or treatment which is
different from that accorded to others.
To be discriminatory,
the classification must be both unreasonable and detrimental.
The discriminations against blind or handicapped people are
often not recognized as such.
They cloak themselves in many