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Muscular Dystrophy Association Celebrates Historic Advancements in Accessible Air Travel as Congress Passes FAA Reauthorization

Milestone Reached Following MDA Advocacy Campaign for Unprecedented Progress in Accessible Air Travel

Washington, DC, May 15, 2024 – Today, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) celebrates a landmark achievement in accessible air travel as Congress grants final passage to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill - H.R.3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act. The bipartisan effort, following months of negotiation, represents the most significant improvement in air travel for people living with disabilities in nearly 40 years and makes strides towards ensuring safer and more dignified air travel experiences for everyone.

Image of an airplane and clouds with the words, Breaking News Congress Passes FAA Reauthorization with Accessible Air Travel Reforms.
Congress Passes FAA Reauthorization with Accessible Air Travel Reforms

The FAA reauthorization bill, bolstered by provisions championed by MDA, addresses crucial aspects of accessibility in air travel, including the establishment of pathways to wheelchair spots on airplanes, the requirement for continued study on safe wheelchair tie-down systems and evacuation standards for passengers with disabilities, greater information on onboard wheelchair provision and enhanced training standards for assisting passengers who use wheelchairs and for safe stowage of wheelchairs. Additionally, the bill aims to streamline and improve the Department of Transportation (DOT) complaint process and increase representation of individuals living with disabilities on passenger experience committees.

“The FAA reauthorization is an important step to creating an equitable, safe, and dignified travel experience for people with neuromuscular and related disabilities,” said Donald S. Wood, PhD, President and CEO, MDA. "This passage is the most significant advancement in accessible air travel in nearly four decades. We’re extremely proud of the collaboration between MDA, our advocates, and government leaders, which helped bring this new standard for accessible travel into law."

“The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Accessible Air Travel advocacy campaign channeled the neuromuscular and the entire disability communities’ efforts to make it quite clear that mistreating people and damaging wheelchairs during air travel is unacceptable. We are grateful to the House and Senate for prioritizing accessibility improvements needed by the community,” said Paul Melmeyer, Executive Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy, MDA.

Following today’s Congressional vote, the President is expected to sign the bill into law. Even with today’s momentous news, MDA will remain actively engaged in the implementation process and will continue to advocate for future reforms that prioritize the needs of people with disabilities. MDA on the Hill continues to be a tremendous force as advocates meet with lawmakers in person; in 2023, our advocates visited their legislators to catalyze the effort to ensure that the final FAA reauthorization bill reflected the shared vision of enhanced accessibility and inclusivity in air travel.

“MDA extends its gratitude to Congress for their unwavering support and bipartisan collaboration in advancing these critical initiatives,” said Mindy Henderson, Vice President of Disability Outreach and Empowerment, MDA. “With the final passage of the FAA reauthorization bill, the entire community of families served by Muscular Dystrophy Association look forward to a future where air travel is truly accessible to all.”

"Finally, with the new reforms included in the FAA Reauthorization, there's hope for a transformation in air travel for people with disabilities. No longer should boarding a flight feel like an out-of-body experience fraught with fear and uncertainty. As someone with muscular dystrophy, I've faced the harsh reality of inadequate training and misconceptions about my needs. Being loaded onto a plane isn't a privilege; it's a necessity to shield others from the indignity and pain we endure during transfers. We've fought tirelessly for inclusion in society, from public buildings to workplaces, and accessible air travel is our right, not a mere courtesy. It's time for airlines to recognize our voices and uphold their obligations under the law, ensuring that every passenger, regardless of ability, can fly with dignity and respect," said Madison Lawson, MDA Advocate, journalist and disability rights activist.

MDA remains steadfast in its commitment to fostering collaboration between lawmakers, disability advocacy groups, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and other stakeholders to ensure that this final FAA reauthorization bill is fully implemented and results in a better flying experience for individuals with disabilities.

MDA is grateful to Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, Chairman Sam Graves, Ranking Member Ted Cruz, Ranking Member Rick Larsen, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Congressman Garrett Graves, Congressman Steve Cohen, and Congresswoman Dina Titus who collectively ensured this legislation would transform accessible air travel for the better. MDA also thanks its advocacy partners, particularly Paralyzed Veterans of America, for their steadfast collaboration.

About MDA’s Accessible Air Travel Advocacy Campaign

In May 2023, MDA Advocates went to Capitol Hill to speak with lawmakers who sit on key committees about accessible air travel for inclusion in the FAA reauthorization. In addition to this video, featuring Mindy Henderson, Vice President of Disability Outreach and Empowerment, MDA released a companion video featuring MDA Advocate and disability activist Madison Lawson, which documents a treacherous experience on a recent flight. That video garnered over 2 million views and thousands of messages to Capitol Hill. MDA Advocate Maceo Carter also shared his experience with damage to his wheelchair in USA Today. In total, MDA advocates have sent over 10,600 messages to lawmakers since 2023 urging them to make air travel accessible for people living with disabilities. To learn more about today’s landmark legislative achievement and to follow MDA’s #AccessibleAirTravel campaign go to MDA.org/AirTravel and follow @MDA_Advocacy.

About Muscular Dystrophy Association

Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) is the #1 voluntary health organization in the United States for people living with muscular dystrophy, ALS, and related neuromuscular diseases. For over 70 years, MDA has led the way in accelerating research, advancing care, and advocating for the support of our families. MDA's mission is to empower the people we serve to live longer, more independent lives. To learn more visit mda.org and follow MDA on Instagram, Facebook, X, Threads, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube.