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Highlights of The Canadian Transportation Agency's Mandate and Decisions

Editor's Note: Submitted by Normand Bergeron, Communications Adviser of the Canadian Transportation Agency.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is responsible for ensuring that undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities are removed from federally regulated transportation services and facilities. The Agency removes undue obstacles in two ways: on a case-by-case basis by adjucating individual complaints, and on a systemic basis by developing regulations, codes of practice and standards concerning the level of accessibility in modes of transport under federal jurisdiction, such as air, and some rail and marine.

Once a complaint is filed with the Agency, a process to deal with it effectively and fairly begins. A panel of at least two Members considers the complaint; once all parties have filed their pleadings, Agency Members determine first, whether there has been an obstacle to the mobility of a person with a disability and if so, then determine whether this obstacle is undue. If the Members find that there is an undue obstacle, they can order corrective action. The Members' analyses, findings and resulting corrective actions are issued in a decision. This process must take no longer than 120 days, unless the parties agree to an extension.

The following is a summary of four decisions issued by the Agency regarding complaints filed by persons who are blind or have a vision impairment, and who have encountered obstacles during their travel. These examples address the various types of accessibility issues raised by the complainants and in one instance show how the Agency staff has been able to provide assistance before the trip.

ERRONEOUS INFORMATION PROVIDED BY AIR CARRIER

A person who is deaf-blind complained to the Agency about incorrect information that was provided to her by Air Nova personnel. Air Nova did not advise her of the carrier's policy which requires that, for safety reasons, persons with both a hearing and vision impairment must travel with an attendant. After accepting her reservation and after check-in at the airport and boarding, she was escorted off the aircraft and unable to travel as planned. Air Nova acknowledged the breakdown in communication and the inconsistent awareness by its ground and in-flight staff of the carrier's policies and procedures related to the carriage of persons who are both deaf and blind. The Agency found that the actions of Air Nova personnel constituted an undue obstacle to the mobility of this traveller. The carrier was required to submit its training program to the Agency for evaluation to determine whether it complied with the Personnel Training for the Assistance of Persons with Disabilities Regulations. Further, Air Nova was required to reimburse the traveller for expenses incurred as a direct result of the undue obstacle.

ABSENCE OF SAFETY INFORMATION IN BRAILLE ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT

A person filed a complaint with the Agency regarding the absence of Braille air safety information cards on board Air Ontario's aircraft. The Agency determined that the lack of Braille and large print safety information cards on the flight constituted an undue obstacle to the mobility of the applicant at the time of the incident. The carrier, in co-operation with the Air Transport Association of Canada, consequently now provides safety information cards in Braille and large print on all Air Ontario aircraft.

CARRIER REFUSED TO ACCEPT A PASSENGER WITHOUT AN ATTENDANT

Air India refused to accept a passenger without an attendant, because of his vision impairment. The Agency determined that this refusal by Air India resulted in an undue obstacle to the applicant's mobility. It was also determined that this could have easily been avoided if Air India had a proper policy with respect to the carriage of, and terms and conditions applicable to the transportation of, persons with disabilities. Air India was required to submit a report to the Agency on the policies and procedures it developed and implemented to avoid a similar situation in the future. As a goodwill gesture, the carrier provided the customer with a full reimbursement of expenses claimed.

CARRIER REFUSED TO CARRY A SERVICE ANIMAL ON A SMALL AIRCRAFT

A business traveller filed a complaint that Central Mountain Air had refused to carry a service animal on a small aircraft. Since taking a later flight on a larger aircraft was not an acceptable alternative for this traveller, he had to leave the animal behind. The Agency noted that the carrier had a policy of carrying service animals. In this case, the Customer Service Agent had not checked the computer system and was unaware of the company's policy regarding service animals. The Agency found that the carrier's refusal to carry the service animal was an undue obstacle. Central Mountain Air reviewed the incident with the Customer Service Agent concerned and the carrier issued a bulletin reminding all crew and ground staff of its policy regarding the carriage of service animals. The Agency reviewed the various corrective measures undertaken by the air carrier and concluded that they should prevent the recurrence of incidents such as the one experienced.

ASSISTANCE PROVIDED BY THE AGENCY'S STAFF PRIOR TO THE TRIP

Sometimes, Agency staff are able to assist travellers with disabilities before problems arise. In one such case, a guide dog user called the Agency's Accessible Transportation Directorate because an airline refused to accept her reservation. She was told that the airline would not book her flight unless she sent two photographs of herself, one with her guide dog and the other without. Agency staff explained the applicable regulations to the carrier which served as the basis for resolution. The airline was reassured that it can accept self-declarations from persons with service animals at the time of the reservation, and the traveller agreed that, if asked, she would produce a guide dog identification card at the airport.

In cases such as this, everyone wins and a long protracted process is avoided. More importantly, the solution is timely and in place before the person takes the trip. Education and consultation are integral to the Agency's effectiveness in carrying out its mandate. The Agency works closely with those who use and provide transportation services in Canada. It helps travellers and carriers to fully understand not only their rights and obligations under the Act, but also the Agency's role and responsibilities in the area of accessible transportation.

People wanting more information about decisions on complaints should refer to the actual decisions. You can obtain a copy of any decision mentioned here from the Agency's Web site at: http://www.cta.gc.ca. You can also call us at 1-800-883-1813 (TTY:1-800-669-5575) for a copy if you are not able to access our Web site.

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