Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ski Steamboat, Gets an A+ for Access

Do you Ski Steamboat?


Steamboat's always making improvements, and always thinking of access when they do.  We noticed bright new lift line signage (above) and wider adaptive lanes as we loaded the Christy sixpack for the first ride this year, always great to see updated and accurate, helpful signage!  This is one easy access fix many resorts don't think about; directional signage is key!

Other developments at the base include an accessible new Umbrella Bar and deck outside the Bear River, and a new paved system that runs from the Sheraton to One Steamboat Place that will be heated as of next ski season- this year be patient with the base maintenance crew as they try and keep up with the abundance of snow!

Steamboat employees also get a training session on Customers with Disabilities, and the staff always sends us excellent comments and feedback about their appreciation of this training that we've been doing since 2006; Steamboat's staff truly aims to please!

Steamboat's adaptive program STARS is ramping up this year, training more instructors than ever before, and growing its program with each season, so more and more adaptive skiers will be present at our mountain!

The restaurant scene in Steamboat is widely accessible, with only one restaurant without an accessible entrance (due to stairs)! And lodging here is also widely accessible.

So if you don't ski Steamboat, you should!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Announcing Amtrak 2011 Improvements to Access

We are excited to announce we are at the very beginning of a long adventure with Open Doors and Amtrak, who signed an agreement on Monday to train nearly 8000 employees in 17 cities throughout the United States. 

The Open Doors Organization (ODO) works tirelessly to improve access across the board in the travel industry, having spent the last year building an amazing Airline Ground Crew training program, collaborating with the Mobility Shop to educate tarmak employees on how to handle wheelchairs and mobility equipment efficiently, safely, and without damage.  Craig has been one of ODO's main trainers for this program for the last six months and has heard some great and amazing feedback from 40-year veterans who've simply never gotten training such as this.  What started out as a program with just a few airlines, this program has such good feedback, that most national and some international airlines are now receiving this training.

ODO also works with the airlines on their Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO) training program and recently begun working with Celebrity Cruiselines on assessing their ships and creating a training program for their employees as well.

So it seems natural to carry this expertise and training over to the Amtrak system, covering all the bases of national travel!  I headed down to Delaware this week for our first initial planning meeting to set up training dates and begin building the curriculum; we begin training in January!

Seeing the country via train is going to make for a fascinating year, and we're thrilled to be a part of this amazing training that will encompass the largest group of employees that ODO has taken on.

Making this training interesting for the employees always involves stories, so if you have a personal story about traveling on Amtrak and/or the accessibility of this mode of travel, please email them to ask@accessanything.net.

Stay tuned for many in-station reports coming next year!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Announcing new employees at Steamboat Adaptive's STARS

Steamboat Adaptive first opened its doors in the late 1970s, offering skiing for people with disabilities on some pretty hair-brained equipment back then!  For the following thirty years, Steamboat Adaptive was run by Steamboat Ski Area, sharing funds, instructors, and office space.

In 2007, one of our local adaptive instructors saw the need to transform this program into its own independent nonprofit, and STARS was born: Steamboat Training Adaptive Recreational Sports.  A Board of Directors was formed, and by 2009, STARS (now just STeamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports) was sharing in the duties of running some of the annual  camp series that Access Anything and Adaptive Adventures had created together in 2006. 


In February of this year, STARS hired us as consultants to grow their summer programming, and as you know, we hosted two new camps in addition to the three we had started with Adaptive Adventures.  By summer of this year, STARS had banked enough funds to hire employees, and first hired Julie Taulman as the Executive Director.  3-year board member, fastidious grant writer, and mother of a child with a disability, Julie has extreme dedication to the success of this organization. 

The next obvious step for STARS was to hire a Program Director, and in late October, STARS offered this position to Craig.  Coupled with their team of extremely experienced instructors Liz Leipold (who helped to formulate the first Steamboat Adaptive program), Sheila Farney and George Hurley, they have been spending tireless hours training instructors and continuing to build STARS into the program Steamboat deserves.  Many new disability training segments are being covered, and nearly 100 instructors will receive training. 

Once initial training has been covered, Julie and Craig will turn their focus to the 6th Annual All Mountain Ski Camp for wounded veterans and adults with disabilities, returning this January 9-13, and following that, the Youth Ski and Ride Camp in March. 

This is an exciting time for STARS, watching the program grow independently from the Ski Area's protective nest has been fascinating- the support from locals, response from instructors, and feedback from the clients has been extremely positive.  Craig comes home more excited each day with the progress they're making.  If you haven't checked out their new office yet in Gondola Square across from the Gondola's entrance, do.  It's a nexus of positive activity! 
 
Stay tuned for more reports on the growth of this amazing program and its upcoming camps.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Flying with Wheelchairs: Webinar December 7

Flying with Wheelchairs: Knowing Your Rights & Responsibilities at 32,000 Feet
Date: December 7, 2010, 2:00-3:30pm Eastern
 
The Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR) will host an informative webinar on the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), specifically as it relates to flying with wheelchairs. The webinar is being held in collaboration with the ADA National Network (formerly DBTACs).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Royal Caribbean Cruises assessment for access

We've been touring Celebrity boats with Open Doors Org for 3 days and what a whirlwind of rolling through levels upon levels with our rulers, notebooks, and camera!

Despite having found a ship-full of suggested improvements, all in all we're extremely impressed with the three ships we checked out for: The Constellation, The Century, and the Solstice, and feel they're way above the curve when it comes to the rest of the industry. We've stood by Royal Caribbean for years now; and glad that Celebrity is part of this trusted family.

Having never cruised ourselves, we are always impressed with the floating cities (we've toured other ships through SATH conferences), and how generally accessible and accommodating they are to travelers with disabilities.  The list of access features is extensive- wide doors, tons of wayfinding signage, service dog relief areas, accessible spas, ramps and more ramps, large print menus, TTY packets, and rails and handbars everywhere. Worth note, the accessible rooms are spacious and better than most hotels we've seen! With libraries, casinos, multiple dining choices, decks and pools, cinemas and theaters, galleries and stores, the temptation to start cruising has set in on Access Anything!

But as was our reason to be there, we found many recommendations however, which should please our readers - though the industry has come a long way, there is still plenty of the hill to climb towards total universal design.  Of most importance to us is the alternative ways to disembarking at ports along the way - as many of the side stops and day trips in smaller ports are still inaccessible to PWD, and being the adventure promoters that we are, this is a key feature for us to consider cruising overall.

The recommendation packet is of course confidential, but we're excited that RC and Celebrity have dedicated their 2011 goals to improve their accessibility and set an industry standard that the rest will have to live up to! 

Have faith that your special needs will be well taken care of with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity!


Images:
Some great amenities:





Some suggestions: 




Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall issue of The Traveler

In case you do not receive emails from Access Anything's mailing list, our fall issue of The Traveler, a quarterly publication for travelers with disabilities, has been posted to our website.

You can view the link of this accessible PDF here:
http://www.accessanything.net/text/TravelerFall10.pdf


Cover shot of Fall 2010 The Traveler
Contents include:
Airline Update
United-Continental Merger
US Airways Big Mistakes
Universal Access in Airports
Conference
Making PDFs Accessible
Winter Camps Preview
Marketplace
Traveler’s Calendar
Online Destinations
The Crip’s Tip
Recommended Services and Companies

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Traveling with a service animal, rules and relief areas

In the airline and travel industries, the service animal rules and stories seem to mutate by the week, and I hope as the stories worsen, we'll see some long-needed intervention by the government to certify, regulate, and generally bring some control back to an issue that is slowly careening out of control.  Pets are being masked as service animals of all species, and the handlers of these pets often do not have responsible control of the animals, making it harder on those who do travel with bonifide working dogs.  Stories of dog fights, mistreated businesses, and animal accidents increase yearly, so it's inevitable that the US government takes some strides in a creating a better system of balanced control.  Until then, here are some of the old and new rules as well as progress in animal relief areas that is currently worth mention.  As ones that used to travel with a service animal, this topic is very close to our heart, and that said, we hope that if you do travel with an animal that you have trained yourself, as we did, that you do so responsibly. 

Existing Rules: 
*  Airlines can not ask passengers what their disability is, but they can ask what the service animal does for the individual, which will briefly touch on that person's special needs (and therefore eluding to their disability).
*  Airlines are required to provide service animal relief areas and must cooperate with airport operators to make these areas accessible and readily available for both arriving and connecting passengers.
TSA will expedite passengers to and from outdoor relief areas if they are on the other side of security and a passenger needs to relieve the service animal during a connecting flight.

Newest Rule:
*  Passengers traveling with "emotional support animals" (which are not currently defined the same as a service animal) must give the airline 48 hours advance notice and provide a letter of verification and special need from their doctor.

International Rules: 
Many countries have very strict rules regarding animals and traveling with pets, and no matter what the laws are in the US, as well as no matter whether the new 382 ruling requires their airlines to comply with our rules, if the country's existing laws prohibit animals in some way, they prohibit US travelers with service animals as well and are awarded a "conflict of law waiver" in regard to following 382. Of note, the Philippines, Jamaica, and Mexico have already received their conflict of law waivers, and do not, nor likely will soon, allow service animals into their countries.

Progress: 
Animal Relief Areas have been created in most airports thanks to 382.  However not all hub airports have a great solution for connecting travelers as of yet.  The airport that seems to have excelled the most is Philadelphia, with 7 relief areas just outside every TSA checkpoint.  Seattle has created one inside that they're expanding upon, (currently it's just linoleum, but at least it's inside the terminal).  Most airports have been adding this information to their maps online, and some airlines have been adding the information to their inflight magazine maps as well. 

The biggest struggle seems to be with TSA allowing them to be "safe-side" (within the TSA-cleared areas), as the rules are tight on how close non-employees can be to an active tarmac, as well as what permitted areas and corridors of the safe-side they can utilize.  However more and more airports are exploring creative options as the needs increase.

The Open Doors Organization continues to work with the U.S. Access Board on a guidelines publication and hopes to release that sometime in 2011.

Monday, November 15, 2010

ASME Symposium to Further Examine Use of Elevators in Emergencies

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the remaining threat of future attacks has led to an extensive reassessment of evacuation procedures in high-rise buildings.  In particular, the use of elevators in emergencies remains a topic of much discussion in the industry.  

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a provider of elevator codes, will conduct a symposium on the use of elevators in fires and other emergencies December 1 – 2 in Orlando, Fla.  

The event will focus on a review of changes being developed to elevator, building, and life safety codes, as well as electrical and other related codes.  The agenda also includes an update on the progress of new ASME codes on the use of elevators for evacuation and firefighting purposes, proposals from U.S. and international experts on implementing changes to building and elevator systems, and presentations on human factors, including training of the public and emergency responders. 

For more information on the symposium, visit ASME’s website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Airline travel technology update

Back in October we were involved in two very informative weeks with the airlines between our advisory board with Continental Airlines and the Universal Access in Airports conference, both in Houston, TX.

As you know, technology advances so fast, it's nearly impossible to keep up with updates. By the time you get used to your new phone, computer, television, iPod, etc., there's a new one on the market with new features that you always wish yours had.

Disability technology is no different, but it's extremely exciting for this group of travelers because it is bringing independence to their travel experience. This list provides just a few of the recent adaptations in travel tech of late, it's hard to stay up to date on this topic, but we'll try!


* Check-in Kiosks: You've likely used these, as they're increasingly a part of the airline check-in process and are more and more replacing the human side of check-in. But perhaps you've noticed they're all the same height, they don't speak to blind customers, and they have other features that need to be updated for access.  The airlines have taken this into account and worked with IBM on creating kiosks that are more universally designed for all disability needs.  They are being programmed to have an audio walk-through for blind users, and you'll start seeing some that are lowered in height as well.

* Mobile Apps: Neilsen News estimate that 1 in 2 Americans will have smartphones by Christmas of 2011, and the airlines are getting ahead of the curve.  Many airlines now have launched mobile versions of their websites with highlight on the travel features of their main site, but a few have gone one step further to create iPhone and Android-based applications that include additional features such as check-in, updated flight and gate information, standby lists, seat maps, airport maps, and services as well (currency converter, directTV, president club locations, etc).  The most unique and forward-thinking feature is the mobile boarding pass.  View Continental's mobile page here, or purchase their iPhone app here. They will be coming out with the Android version soon.

* WiFi: As frequent travelers have begun to notice, some (not many yet) airlines are starting to offer WiFi (online connectivity) on their aircrafts while in flight.  What has been significantly absent from the airlines always has been the closed- or open-captioning for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.  Airlines offer alternative language subtitles from French to Vietnemese, but never have offered English subtitles, which would have sufficed as a first-step for this clientele.  However with WiFi being the wave of the future, and captioning applications available online for live-streaming websites such as Netflix, the airlines are starting to look at this as an option for captioning in the very near future.  Unfortunately, currently the WiFi of choice for airlines is Gogo Explorer from Softpedia, which does not work well with blind readers (below) as of yet.

* Blind Readers: For travelers with sight disabilities, their "blind-readers," such as JAWS (Job Access with Speech by Freedom Scientific), are their access to the world wide web. These readers have advanced extremely far in the last few years, and have been recently integrated with touch screens, which many thought might never happen. Apple's iPhone for instance now has an standard application "Outspoken" that is included on all new phones now since the last two releases of the phone. These are hugely helpful in navigation as well as in reading websites and the wide variety of uses for the iPhone.

* Click and Go Wayfinding: In addition to the blind readers above, there are new navigation applications that are making not only street and directional navigation possible, but interior navigation as well, such as within malls, airports, public buildings, and even office buildings. Modeled after the directions feature of Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, and MapQuest that sighted users often use for driving directions, Click and Go has added features that meet the specific needs of the blind and deafblind, and are now able to provide non-sighted travelers with customized "mobility-friendly" walking directions.

* Go'Shna: Goshna is the Indian word for announcement and is a working project at the University of Florida’s Mobile and Pervasive Computing Research Laboratory, created by Cheenu Madan, a masters student with hearing loss at the U. of FL. Go'Shna is a mobile translator for airport announcement services, and provides a text version of the public announcements in airports on the user's mobile phone, which can be downloaded for free from either iPhone's store or Android's marketplace. After the easy two steps of subscribing, users get a text message or email for each overhead announcement in the airport terminal, based on preferences the user chooses. The Go'Shna app gives independence to the traveler with hearing loss – no need to ask for assistance or to be rooted to one spot looking to see if people are moving towards your boarding gate.  Currently this app is still being rolled out, but if you'd like to know more, Cheenu's email is provided in his name link above, or contact Dr. Sumi Helal, director of the Mobile and Pervasive Lab at UF.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What is protecting and creating the legal rights for airline travel for customers with disabilities?

One of the most common misconceptions of airline travel for people with disabilities is in the legal department.  There are many laws in place that protect travelers with disabilities, some of which have been in place for a decade or even two, that many travelers still don't know about.  In addition, there are frequent updates to these laws, acts, and regulations.  While it is not necessarily your responsibility as a traveler to know and protect these rights, that is perhaps the most important responsibility of our government, yet it is in your extreme best interest to stay on top of them and be proactive about them.

In addition to what is listed briefly below, travelers can use the US Access Board to stay on top of this topic.  http://www.access-board.gov/gs.htm

Highlights of the existing rights:
ADA- Americans with Disabilities Act; 1990
Title I: employment rights
Title II: public services
Title III: public accomodations
Title IV: telecommunication services
Title V: misc provisions
Where the ADA steps in for travel is in the airports


ACAA- Air Carrier Access Act; 1986
Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities
Carriers may not refuse transportation on the basis of disability.
Airlines may not require advance notice for a person with a disability, with some minor exceptions (such as the 48 hr advance notice requirement for emotional support animals).
Airlines are required to provide assistance with boarding, deplaning, and making connections.
Carriers must designate Complaint Resolution Officials (CROs) to respond to complaints from passengers.
Carriers must obtain an assurance of compliance from contractors who provide services to passengers.


Rehabilitation Act Amendment; 1998
The law strengthens section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the Federal government. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an "undue burden."


More acronyms and links:
ADAAG- ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities
FAA- Federal Aviation Administration; guidelines are slowly becoming standards
DOJ- Department of Justice
DOT- Department of Transportation
ADCP- Airport Disability Compliance Program; auditing and educating operators on standards

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Reprint from Aspen Daily

Amanda Boxtel walks for first time in 18 years

by Dorothy M. Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Walking a few feet across a stage in California is hardly newsworthy for most people, but for Amanda Boxtel it is enough to push her into the realms of celebrity status, receiving national and international coverage from news outlets including CNN, Yahoo! News and CBS.

Basalt resident Boxtel became paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident at Snowmass Ski Area 18 years ago. Since her accident, she has undergone six stem-cell treatments in India; co-founded Challenge Aspen, a Snowmass-based nonprofit that provides recreational opportunities for people with disabilities, and helped establish adaptive skiing programs in Chile, Argentina and Iceland.

In the past few months, Boxtel has been a “test pilot” for a new technology called eLEGS — which is the acronym for Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System — an artificially intelligent bionic device that can assist paraplegics to walk. It was invented by engineers at Berkeley Bionics. The exoskeleton can fit people between 5’2” and 6’4”, weighing 220 pounds or less, and provides knee flexion to mimic the natural human gait.

Berkeley Bionics has used Boxtel in its demonstrations, allowing her to clock over 12 hours in the machine and garnering attention from the media.

“It’s blown up,” Boxtel said. “But with all of this press, I see that the interest is global and real. The people at Berkeley Bionics were expecting it to snowball, but it exceeded their expectations. This media attention has affirmed that people with chronic spinal injuries are crying out for a mobility option.”

Saying that her disability has held her back from embracing life and the array of activities Aspen offers would be naive. She has carried the Olympic torch on her mono-ski, was the Colorado Ski Country USA Adaptive Athlete of the Year and orchestrated the first disability whitewater rafting trip in the Grand Canyon.

 John Fogelin/Special to the Daily News
Paraplegic Amanda Boxtel uses eLEGS to walk in Berkeley, Calif., last month.

“We live in a standing-up world,” Boxtel said. “But I figured it out. I’ve been able to do a lot. And until now, nothing has been invented to allow paraplegics to get up and walk. And that’s a bold statement because I’ve recreated -— -I ski and kayak and paraglide, and I’ve been up to the Maroon Bells and down. Amputees are winning the able-body running Olympics. The technology is there.”


Since Boxtel has become involved with Berkeley Bionics, her new goal is to bring eLEGS to the Aspen Club as a rehabilitation tool.

“I’m hoping that Aspen will become the first place to offer eLEGS to the public and when you think about it, the Aspen Club is the perfect place for it,” she said. “In order to use eLEGS, you need supervision by doctors and physical therapists, which the Aspen Club can provide.

“Instead of going to work [out] at the gym [paraplegics] can go to walk.”

According to Boxtel, eLEGS could be available to be sold commercially as soon as June or July, costing between $90,000 and $100,000. She predicts that the cost could eventually drop to $35,000, making it an affordable personal device, particularly if it can be covered by insurance.

Michael Fox, CEO of the Aspen Club, said he is excited for the prospective acquisition.

“We’re excited for Amanda and we’re excited for eLEGS,” he said. “We think it’s a very cool technology and we’re talking to Amanda about what it would take to get eLEGS at the club. Given that the Aspen Club is the premier venue in sports medicine in the Western Slope it would make sense, and if it works, we would love to have one here.”

The Aspen Club sponsors paralympic athletes, attracting them to the facility with their sports medicine program and innovative machines, such as their anti-gravity treadmill.

In the meantime, Boxtel will be traveling between Aspen and Berkeley to continue her role as a test pilot.

“With eLEGS we’re really on the forefront,” she said. “It’s real, truly cutting edge technology that can propel us forward to live a full life in full tallness.”

dorothy@aspendailynews.com

Monday, November 01, 2010

Making PDFs accessible to screen readers

I've always been told that PDFs (Portable Document Format) aren't accessible for people with seeing impairments. Why? It's basically a flattened image, with no text boxes to read.  But what I haven't taken the time to do, until now, is learn how to fix that, mostly because I didn't know I could, until a dear friend mentioned that Adobe has indeed made it possible.

I've found some great tutorials online that I will share in lieu of re-explaining everything in my own just-know-enough-to-be-dangerous version.


Making your website accessible is now a part of the ADA thanks to a new amendment back in July. So read up, and fix your websites and posted PDFs as soon as you can to avoid fines.

Adobe has a great 40-minute video (one of the best explained tutorials I've ever watched) on making your InDesign document accessible with walk-throughs for both InDesign and Acrobat to make PDFs fully accessible. Every portion of this video is needed, so don't cheat and cut it short. The last 30 seconds even teach you how to use Acrobat to test how a reader will speak its contents.
http://tv.adobe.com/watch/accessibility-adobe/preparing-indesign-files-for-accessibility/

For making Microsoft Word, WordPress and other text documents accessible, the National Center on Disability and Access to Education website has an all-in-one link herehttp://ncdae.org/tools/factsheets/word.cfm

If you watch the Adobe video first, you'll learn about headings and text styles and why they are important.  That information is helpful before you read this page if you are new to tagging, headings, and styles.  The video also instructs on adding alternative text to images ("figures") and why that is also important.  This page from the NCDAE lists these adaptations but not with in-depth explanations like the video above offers.  So whether you use InDesign or not, I suggest watching that video to at least learn the basics on these subjects.  This page also mentions that in many cases with MSWord, Mac users aren't able to make some of these changes unless you're proficient in HTML coding, but this article was published in 2006 and I will make the assumption that some changes have been made to this since then.

But in lieu of researching this, since I am not a Mac user, I suggest that those of you who convert to PDFs for simpler emailing and posting, you can instead convert your Word file to a "Read Only" file and skip this inaccessibility all together!  I found that that images were easy to tag ("format picture" either under format or right click menu) in Word AND MSOutlook (such as in my signature). 

One last point, if you're blogging, writing for Examiner, or making your own website on a user-friendly platform like WordPress, they all ask you for "descriptions" of your images when you upload them, so don't just put in a title, make it descriptive for readers. 

Thanks to modern technology this has become a much easier process in just the last two years.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What happens when airlines violate the Air Carrier Access Act (the ADA of the skies)

In May of 2009, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, 1986) was amended expanding upon the rights for travelers with disabilities under what is labeled DOT 14 CFR part 382 (382).

382 came in with dozens of new rules and a hefty fine system for violating them. Just one violation of 382 can bring down a $27,500 fine (yes that # is right) on the airline, and the violations usually occur in multiple areas so the fine amount is never that low.

Before the new amendments were adopted, many airlines were fined, especially in the year 2003, when the DOT found that America West Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines violated the ACAA by failing to provide a stowage space for standard-size folding wheelchairs inside the cabins of their aircraft.

But since last year's 382, airlines have been fined in increasing amounts, and yet many airlines still fail to improve upon their training of handling customers with disabilities and their equipment, nor have they beefed up awareness of these new rules and rights for their employees. Without the proper training, the employee ignorance is somewhat excusable, so the responsibility fall on the airline executives and trainers, not the employees themselves. Some of these airlines have been correcting their training, such as Continental, Southwest, and American, but most have not yet.

In January of 2010, TAM Linhas Aereas was fined first and least, at $5000, for incorrectly filing annual reports detailing disability-related complalints that the foreign complaints from passengers during 2007-08. 

Along the same lines, in May of 2010, The DOT assessed a civil penalty against Continental Airlines for filing incomplete reports with the Department tabulating complaints that passengers with disabilities registered with the carrier. Continental was ordered to cease and desist from further violations and assessed a civil penalty of $100,000.

In August 2010 AirTran was one of the largest fines to date, totaling $500,000. The DOT found several violations against the requirements for boarding assistance. In addition, the carrier’s complaint files showed that it frequently did not provide an adequate written response to complaints from passengers. DOT said up to $200,000 of the airline's fine "may be used to improve its service to disabled passengers beyond what is required by law" including using up to $140,000 to "employ an automated wheelchair tracking system at AirTran's major hub airports within one year that will generate real-time reports of the carrier's wheelchair assistance performance."

Additional airlines are being reviewed for recent violations and readers will likely see increasingly more fines in 2011 due to the still existing lack of understanding and awareness of 382.  If passenger awareness grows faster than employee awareness, the sliding scale will be out of balance for quite some time.   

Know which airlines make mistakes, and which airlines take care of their customers. Protect your rights AND your equipment by patronizing those who care to go above and beyond the ACAA. View past legal cases against the airlines here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Universal Access in Airports Conference

Houston, TX
October 19-20, 2010

The Open Doors Organization (ODO) out of Chicago, IL hosted its bi-annual (/2yrs) Universal Access in Airports Conference at the Crown Plaza Houston Downtown this week, welcoming over 100 airline, airport, government, and service provider personnel to come together and present on vital topics on accessibility for travelers with disabilities such as legal rights, technology, service animal relief areas, websites, emergency preparedness, and training. 

These topics are of vital importance now and even more so in the coming years; as of January 1st, the 79 million baby boomers in the US alone will start turning 65 at an alarming rate of 10,000 per day.  By 2020 50% of that group will be traveling with a disability.  Just five years later, that number will grow to 75% and will make up 40% of the public that travels by air.  By the year 2050, 25-30% of the international population will be over 60 as well.  Improving airports' and airlines' accessibility will not be optional, it will be vital.  Assisting the these providers to get on the right track now, instead of playing catch-up later, will be a matter of survival for the companies.

Because these past two days had so much important information to report on, we will take this space to update you on the various topics touched upon in this conference over the remaining weeks of 2010. But the largest message we personally took away from this conference was that while these organizations may not appear fully accessible to you now, they ALL desire to go above and beyond the requirements of the legal requirements.  They collectively see the gaps in universal design across the board and are eager to learn how to make this type of travel as seemless as possible for traveler.  They are eager to work with companies and consultants who are excelling- some of these are not even US agencies and examples. 

We are proud to be a part of this progress; it was an absolute pleasure meeting the various airport Customer Service Coordinators, Disability Outreach Officers, Boeing Engineers, and US Access Board Accessibility Specialists.  This was a room full of bright minds, progressive thinkers, and dedicated researchers, who WILL change this world in the near future.  We're excited to share the progress with you over the next few weeks.

Friday, October 15, 2010

President Obama Signs Twenty-First Century Communications & Video Accessibility Act

reprint from the http://www.disability.gov/ blog, October 8

Today President Obama signed into law the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. This law will ensure that Americans with disabilities can more fully participate in society and enjoy all that new technologies have to offer--especially Internet-based and mobile services.

The new law will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or have low vision to access the Internet, smart phones, television programming and other communications and video technologies. The law will also make sure that emergency information is accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision. In addition, $10 million per year will be allocated from the Interstate Relay Service Fund for equipment used by individuals who are deaf-blind. For more information read What S.3304 Does For Us from the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology.

Visit Disability.gov for more information about accessible technology.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Continental Airlines Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board says goodbye to an era

Houston, TX
October 6-7, 2010
Continental Airlines officially merged with
United Airlines on October 1, 2010

It has been our highest honor to sit on the Continental Airlines Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board (CACDAB) since 2008. When approached three years ago by
Customer First and Regulatory Programs Manager Bill Burnell and his team, we leapt at the opportunity to help make a difference for one of our favorite travel providers. This company has always had the contagious postitive attitude towards PWD and act as family taking care of you on the road. The company's long-term dedication to going above and beyond the regulations for handling customers with disabilities is applaudable. Therefore to be one of their advisors on the topic is the hugest honor one could have.

We were invited to
visit Northwest's board in early 2008 in Detroit just before their merger with Delta, and subsequent dissolvement, and as Burnell always says, we learned what not to do. From there Continental gathered an all-star team of representatives from the travelers with disabilities community, representing as many disabilities as possible including many levels of physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. Each meeting the Continental crowd would grow larger and larger, with multiple employees from dozens of departments coming to listen, give input, and learn at these extremely productive and educational meetings.


This Wednesday, during the board's fifth and final pow-wow under the Continental name, the crowd grew to about 80 eager bodies including the board, Burnell's super team, a first-time appearance from the Pilot's Department and smaller regional airports, and three United
Managers. The morning opened with a surprisingly heart-warming speech about marriage from Vice President of Airport Operations and Planning, Cindy Szadokierski, of "the New United," former French teacher who got the "jet fuel in [her] blood" used phrases like "team effort," "leaving the past stigma behind," and closed with Craig's favorite line of the two days, "at the next meeting."

As board members, we applaud the United team for sitting in open minded durin
g this final and therefore sometimes emotional meeting, as the new step sisters and brothers to this family who has laughed and cried together for two years now. Their input was invaluable, and their note taking did not go by unnoticed. Hopefully this board can only continue to grow in the most beneficial ways as possible during this merger.


What the next year will look like:

You will start to see the airplanes and uniforms merging, with
Continental's logo remaining on the tail and the United name down the body of the aircrafts (above). Pins combining both were handed out to employees.
Mileage points rewards programs will merge.
In the spring of 2011 on "Customer Day One" the policies will merge and customers will "feel a more streamlined experience."
Next, the FAA certificate as one formal airline will be awarded.
United is still "committed to Continental's slogan of
"Offering the highest standard of clean, safe, reliable (and accessible) transportation."
The New United will become the largest, most powerful, and hopefully the most accessible airline in the world.


What has happened since March 2010:
Continental Update
  • Stopped offering medical oxygen for rent and have approved 13 kinds of Personal Oxygen Containers (POC) for passengers to bring onboard. Also hosted POC Awareness Day.
  • Ventilators now approved above 10,000 feet and when applicable can use onboard power to charge.
  • The "Disability Quarterly" with articles from board members and passengers with personal stories receives hundreds of emails in response per issue.
  • Continuing to educate and and merge policies with International Partners.
  • Animal Relief Areas (guide dog potties) now listed on airport maps.
  • Many airport ground crews received mobility equipment handling workshops to reduce annual damage expense.
  • CACDAB's partners TSA, STAXI, and wheelchair providers have also made several changes to how they operate based on the CDAB's suggestions and experience.


It will take some time for this merger to shake out into a product that we all love and company we all patronize, but we are optimistic, and we hope you will be too.

Thanks to Continental for introducing us to an amazing team of dedicated employees and board members.


More on CACDAB and airline travel
CACDAB4
May 2009, TWD's updated rights
CACDAB2

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Universal Access In Airports Conference 2010

From October 19-20, 2010 the Open Doors Organization, IATA, and The Houston Downtown Crowne Plaza are sponsoring the 2010 Universal Access in Airports Conference, an annual event that provides "a unique opportunity for dialogue among the various stakeholders in the aviation industry." This 2-day conference will offer industry leaders a highly informative and educational forum to exchange ideas that address issues relating to accessibility to, in and around airports.

This conference is designed to address issues relating to accessibility in, around and to airports. We have created a forum for you to share and learn about best practices, ADA guidelines, and application of new technology.

Access Anything is proud to be a part of this event in leading a discussion panel on Service Animals in the Airport, assisting both airport managers and airline personnel in making a smooth travel experience for those that travel with working dogs and others.








Other Highlights of this Conference:

  • Explore effective training methods and tools available for airport and airline personnel and service providers as it relates to customer service and assistance for travelers with disabilities.
  • Discover new advancement in technology, accessible facility and website design and guidelines.
  • Learn effective ways to minimize gaps in service from baggage claim to ground transportation.
  • Hear testimonies and experiences of travel from people with disabilities.
  • Examine ways to incorporate process and policy for Emergency Preparedness. Working with all stakeholders of accessible air travel to achieve a plan that puts everyone on the same page.

Registration
Register at the Houston Crowne Plaza
Sponsorship Opportunities
For additional information contact Eric Lipp (773)388-8839 or email ericlipp@opendoorsnfp.org


Presented by



Friday, September 24, 2010

'Project Airport' lifts off today and shows patients how to navigate airport in a wheelchair

Wheelchair patients taught to navigate airport




CLEVELAND - It's hard enough trying to navigate through a crowded airport, but imagine having to do it from a wheelchair.

It’s an added challenge that can be scary and overwhelming.

Today, thanks to Continental Airlines and MetroHealth Medical Center, a handful of patients with spinal cord injuries got a chance to try out the whole air travel process with suggestions and guidance along the way.

Patients were met curbside and taught the best ways to check in, and, with the help of the TSA, maneuver through security.

The passengers boarded a plane and learned how personnel would handle transferring them from their wheelchair to their seat.

It gave 23-year-old Steve Elam the confidence he needed to plan a trip to Vegas with his grandmother next month.

"I'm pumped," he said with a smile.

Some family members also took the training with the patients in an effort to ease some of their own stress and anxiety.

Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Travelers with disabilities face obstacles at airports (USATODAY)

By Harriet Baskas, special for USA TODAY (repost)

With laws such as the Air Carrier Access Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, you might assume that people with disabilities no longer encounter obstacles at U.S. airports.

Unfortunately, that's not true. "Frankly, there isn't enough policing going on to go look at all these airports to see if they're 100% compliant," notes Tim Joniec of the Houston Airport System. "So at some airports it may take a traveler complaining about a service that isn't there before attention is paid to a problem."

And even if a traveler does lodge a complaint, "you'd be surprised at how many airports, including some enormous ones, just don't care," says Eric Lipp, the executive director of the Open Doors Organization (ODO), a non-profit that works with businesses and the disability community.

For those that do care, next month the Open Doors Organization (ODO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) will host a conference about universal access in airports. On the agenda: tools, technology and training to help both airports and airlines do a better job of serving travelers with disabilities.

One topic sure to be discussed is money. About 55 million people in this country have some sort of disability. This community spends upwards of $14 billion a year on travel; more than $3 billion a year on airplane tickets alone.

With medical care and life expectancy improving, the number of travelers with disabilities is predicted to increase to more than 80 million in the next 20 years. Yet, when the Open Doors Organization surveyed adults with disabilities about travel, more than 80% reported encountering obstacles at airports and with airline personnel.

This group could include you in the future. The number of travelers who may encounter obstacles at airports is even larger, says ODO's Lipp, "If you consider the people who don't self-identify as having a disability." That might include aging boomers unwilling to admit they're having trouble seeing information on flight display boards or hearing the overhead announcements. And it can also include temporarily-disabled people, such a vacationer heading home from a ski trip with a broken leg.

"Revenues from this market could easily double," says Lipp, "If certain needs were met and more obstacles removed."

Universal access universally helpful

Lipp and others point out that removing obstacles at airports makes traveling easier for all passengers, not just those with disabilities. And there are plenty of examples of how making changes makes sense.

Curb cuts help those with strollers and wheeled luggage as much as they assist travelers using wheelchairs, walkers, canes or scooters. Family bathrooms are great for parents traveling with small children, but special lavatories at airports also offer grab bars and other amenities that a disabled traveler, or one traveling with an attendant, might find useful. Many general-use airport bathrooms are cleaner due to ADA-compliant self-flush toilets, automatic faucets and motion-sensing paper towel dispensers. And weave-through entryways reduce germs by eliminating the need for everyone to grab the door handle.

Visual-paging systems, like the high-tech ones now installed airport-wide at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, were originally created to assist hearing-impaired passengers. But all passengers can benefit from having an additional way to receive emergency messages and courtesy pages.

And of course, air passengers must be able to get to the gate before they can fly.

At George Bush Intercontinental Airport, passengers must now either walk or negotiate elevators, escalators or a bus when trying to reach Terminal A from Terminal B. That barrier will disappear in October when the airport's above-ground train finally links Terminal A to the other four terminals. "Those with mobility challenges will certainly benefit from this," says the airport's Tim Joniec, "But because 70% of our passengers make a connection at IAH, this will definitely be noticed by all travelers."

Some airlines embrace universal access

Airlines, which are responsible for providing wheelchair services at airports, have also made some special accommodations that end up smoothing out the journey for all passengers.

If you travel with a pet, you've probably noticed the recent proliferation of fenced, landscaped animal relief areas at airports. While pet parks are a welcome general-use amenity, they're popping up because the Carrier Access Act now requires airlines to make relief areas available for service dogs accompanying travelers.

Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air often uses ramps instead of stairs to board all passengers, not just those using wheelchairs, onto smaller Horizon planes at gates where jet bridges are unavailable. "That way no one has to negotiate steep steps to and from the airplane and everyone can enter the airplane the same way," says Ray Prentice, Alaska Airlines' director of Customer Advocacy.

And for the past three years, Continental Airlines (which will legally merge with United Airlines on October 1st) has been getting feedback and advice from a thirteen member advisory board made up of passengers with disabilities.

"Before this board, if we got a service complaint from a passenger with a disability, we'd tweak the policy so it wouldn't happen again," says Continental's disability programs manager Bill Burnell. "Now we can anticipate problem areas before they become complaints. And try to go beyond the minimum ADA requirements. We've learned there's a big difference between something being ADA compliant and it being universally accessible."

Travelers, have you faced challenges with access at airports? Which airports are the easiest to navigate? Share your stories in comments below.

Access Anything is a proud member of Continental Airline's Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Exciting news from the ADA Center

After years of struggle, the ADA has finally been amended to improve access at recreational facilities across the country, including golf, playgrounds, amusement rides and more. In addition we're especially excited about the addition of concert ticketing fraud prevention, see "ticketing" below. Learn your rights and start enforcing them!

This JUST in from the Rocky Mountain ADA Center:

1. Revised ADA Regulations Implementing Title II and Title III

On Friday, July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The Department has prepared fact sheets identifying the major changes in the rules at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/ADAregs2010.htm.

Among the changes that will affect both rules are:

Adoption of the Revised Design Standards – New accessible design standards are established for a variety of recreational facilities, including swimming pools, playgrounds, golf courses, amusement rides, recreational boating facilities, exercise machines and equipment, miniature golf courses and fishing piers; as well as for such public facilities as courthouses, jails and prisons.

Element by Element Safe Harbor – The department is mitigating the cost of design changes by adopting a “safe harbor” under which existing building elements that already comply with the 1991 ADA Standards for Accessible Design would not be required to be brought into compliance with the 2010 Standards until the elements were subject to a planned alteration.

Ticketing – The department has added provisions that provide guidance on the sale of tickets for accessible seating, the sale of season tickets, the secondary ticket market, the hold and release of accessible seating to persons other than those who need accessible seating, ticket pricing, prevention of the fraudulent purchase of accessible seating and the ability to purchase multiple tickets when buying accessible seating.

Service Animals – The regulations define “service animal” as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for benefit of an individual with a disability.

Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices – The amended rules provide a two-tiered approach under which wheelchairs and scooters must be permitted in all areas open to pedestrian use.

Timeshares – The Title III regulation also makes clear that timeshare and condominium properties that operate like hotels are subject to title III, providing guidance about the factors that must be present for a facility that is not an inn, motel, or hotel to qualify as a place of lodging.

Reservations at places of lodging – The Title III regulation includes provisions for reservations made by places of lodging, including requirements for procedures that will allow individuals with disabilities to make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as other guests.

2. The Justice Department (DOJ) has published four new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) proposals.

These advance notices of proposed rulemakings, published in the Federal Register on July 26, 2010, address the accessibility of websites, the provision of captioning and video description in movies shown in theaters, accessible equipment and furniture, and the ability of 9-1-1 centers to take text and video calls from individuals with disabilities. The Department invites written comments from members of the public. Written comments must be postmarked and electronic comments must be submitted on or before January 24, 2011. In a speech at the Department of Justice's ADA 20th Anniversary Commemoration, Attorney General Eric Holder also announced that as part of DOJ's new Diversity Management Plan, there will soon be a new position filled called Special Assistant for Disability Resources.

Friday, July 23, 2010

2010 Mtn Resorts Behind the Boat Watersports Camp

July 20-23 with STARS and Adaptive Adventures

Despite some intermittent stormy weather, this week's 5th annual Watersports Camp outdid itself. With double the local participation as well as veterans and visitors from all over Colorado and as far as Idaho, and of course the usual amazing coaching and volunteers, the two days on Bald Eagle Lake were a huge success. In addition, half a dozen of the participants were brand new to wakeboarding and waterskiing including Edward (below) who spends his time between Steamboat and Georgia.

The Watersports camp is the 5th and final camp in the 2010 STARS Adaptive Camp Series lineup in Steamboat, and a great way to end the season with a relaxed yet fun lakeside atmosphere where families and friends can come hang out and watch/photograph the watersporters.

The coaches from Adaptive Adventures are truly amazing at not only introducing these fun sports to newcomers, they are adept at pushing campers to their limits and beyond with new techniques and equipment every year. Local 8 year old Kyle (below) was able to let go of the outriggers this year and cruise the lake independently on a waterski. While Kyle loves skiing Steamboat in the winter, he "could spend all summer waterskiing," he loves it so much.

STARS hopes to add equipment in order to have more events like this one next year so local kids like Kyle CAN waterski all summer!

Today about half the camp members will be floating the Colorado with Colorado River Company to conclude this year's 3-day event.


For more photos check out the event's photos here.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Custom Color Bikin' the 'Boat Adaptive Cycling Camp

STARS' and Steamboat Springs's first handcycling camp was packed with two days of fun on Steamboat Ski Area and in the backcountry area of Dry Lake and Spring Creek.

STARS is still building its equimpent arsenal which will soon include some handcycles of our own, so for this camp we were lucky to have Darol Kubacz of the Freedom for Life Foundation bring four one-off handcycles up from Arizona, and Mau Thompson and Matt Feeney of Adaptive Adventures bring in three road handcycles from Evergreen, CO.

Four local participants and one from Crested Butte along with about ten volunteers got two awesome days of riding in, July 7 and 8. Several knowledgable and enthusiastic local riders helped make the camp a huge success. Longtime camp volunteer Doug Hecker pre-ran our Spring Creek Trail and jumped ahead of the pack to saw a downed tree in half, and even beleed one participant down the steepest grade of the trail.

The weather cooperated perfectly for two sunny days, and we local organizers believe this was easily our funnest camp yet; getting Craig into the backcountry of Steamboat in the summer months was amazing, seeing terrain he hasn't seen in 15 years. Darol, who has brought his one-offs from Tahoe to Miami, says Spring Creek was one of the most beautiful trails he's seen.

A big thanks to all our sponsors locally~ Custom Color, Resort Quest Steamboat, Steamboat Ski Area, Gondola Joe's, Colorado Bagel Company, the Egg and I, Old Town Pub, Steamboat Smokehouse, and Creekside Cafe ~ from all of us at STARS and Adaptive Adventures



























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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fly the "Friendly Skies" again with faith

In 1966 United Airlines coined the term "Fly the Friendly Skies." Throughout my childhood, my parents and I did just that, wracking up miles like a rain gauge in Oregon, with never a worry about service or smiles.

But as I started to travel with Craig after 2001, my view of the Friendly Skies changed as dramatically as the company's financial situation. We started to notice drastic differences between the airline companies and their employees, and began picking and choosing our flights no longer based on price, but on pleasant experience. After many of Craig's wheelchair parts and other mobility devices suffered extreme damages from many companies, often without apology, and also after many unpleasant experiences with the staff and lack of knowledge of Craig's rights, we of course had our favorites to fly. Surely from our previous posts here, you can guess who those were.

And for almost five years we simply didn't fly United for all of these reasons.

But this past June, we had no choice but to get back on the horse. United is the only service out of the Steamboat/Hayden airport in the summer, and our schedule didn't allow us to fly out of Denver this time.

So we reached out to one of United's top supervisors, explaining our fears, and hoped that this trip would be different.

We were more than pleasantly surprised. I don't remember United employees ever being so pleasant, helpful, accommodating, and even downright chipper.

Something drastic has changed in United Airlines' infrastructure, and frankly I don't need an explanation. I am thrilled to say that this company now handles customers with disabilities and their equipment with care from start to finish.

The highlights:
  • The staff knew we were coming, and knew we needed assistance.
  • They also didn't balk at the medical equipment free-baggage allowance for his toilet seat.
  • The flight crew knew we wanted Craig's wheelchair on board, and made every effort (when possible) to make this happen (both DEN-IAD flights) and knew it was in his FAA rights to do so.
  • Everyone greeted us with a smile.
  • No one ignored us. (Really, that's a highlight!)
  • The pilot even introduced himself. When does that EVER happen?
  • None of Craig's mobility equipment was damaged.
While I would like to assume this would be the standard treatment without the big red flag warning we sent out (an email that seemed to make it all around the company, as many of the supervising staff helping us mentioned it- hopefully it was well written!), they won us over nonetheless.

Of course we returned the favor with Life is Good stickers for everyone, and now I'm proud to say that this company is joining team with one of our favorites (Continental) at the end of the year.

I do hope that Continental Airline's Disability Advisory Board is retained through the big merger however- despite the positive message this post, there's still a lot of work to be done on all fronts in the airlines, but we see progress, and progress is always good.

But we will be flying with United again someday soon, I guarantee it. We hope you give them a shot too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Denver's Camp Discovery 2nd Annual Camp for Challenged Athletes is just one month away!

The second annual Camp Discovery, July 15-17th, is a Challenged Athletes Foundation Sports Camp for women in wheelchairs that is directed and founded by Denver’s Trish Downing, a spokesperson for Challenged Athletes Foundation and competitive athlete.

Camp Discovery’s two and a half day program at the Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver, Colorado. Activities include horseback riding, swimming, handcycling, swimming and a tour of an accessible home.

”I wanted a group of women who could, by sharing, begin to feel stronger, bolder and braver in their lives, not just vent to each other or create a pity party. In my mind, that meant adventure and excitement; opportunities to expand and challenge,” shares Downing.

After a car hit Downing while she rode her bike in Golden, paralyzing her from the waist down, she’s adapted her athleticism to include a wheelchair. Sports give Downing joy; now she’s sharing that with others.

Downing recounts, “I knew wheelchair athletes before I ever got hurt. I was a tandem pilot for a blind cyclist. I totally hung out with all these people and I started working with disabled athletes. When I got hurt, those people were calling me up and directing me – what hand cycle to get, what camp to do. But, most people don’t have that. Especially women.”

Camp Discovery is open to any woman in a wheelchair because of a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, polio, or any other disease requiring the use of a wheelchair.

To sign up for this camp or to learn more about it, CONTACT Melissa Taylor at meltay@comcast.net 303-564-7980 or Trish Downing at ladyterp_td@hotmail.com, http://www.trishdowning.com