ACAA Rulemaking Comment


Our Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) rulemaking resources include the following:

• Our comment to DOT requesting inclusion in the negotiated rulemaking (“Reg Neg”) process; contains background (this page)

An article on the design challenges and solutions for ACAA service animal access

Our specific proposal for ACAA service animal flight access/accommodations

• Results from relevant community surveys


Peregrine in airport on wheelchair

A service dog waits for equal access under the ACAA.

Background

Many people in our community have some idea that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prompts the Department of Justice to create regulations dealing with accessibility in employment, state and local government, and areas of public accommodation. Usually, it’s those regulations we’re talking about when we refer to “the ADA”.

Similarly, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) of 1986 prompts the Department of Transportation (DOT) to create regulations dealing with accessibility in air travel, where the ADA doesn’t apply. Our community has been pretty unhappy with these regulations since DOT decided to lump together ESAs and PSDs, allowing special documentation requirements of psychiatric service dogs that they can’t require of any other kind of service dog. This is outright discrimination against those with mental illness!

In 2009, our predecessor (Psychiatric Service Dog Society, PSDS) petitioned DOT to revise the regulations to right this wrong. Officials planned to revisit this, but the regulatory process isn’t known for its speed.

After much anticipation, DOT proposed a “negotiated rulemaking” process (also called a “Reg Neg”). Normally, an agency like DOT drafts regulations on their own, then asks for public comment, then decides whether or how to incorporate any feedback they receive. The usual draft feedback period will still happen, but in a Reg Neg, first the agency gets together a committee to represent the parties affected by the regulations. This committee gives feedback that can make the agency’s regulation proposal better the first time around.

On April 7th, DOT announced that the Reg Neg is happening:

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/04/07/2016-08062/nondiscrimination-on-the-basis-of-disability-in-air-travel-establishment-of-a-negotiated-rulemaking

PSDP is exactly the kind of organization DOT was looking for to serve on the Reg Neg committee—which is known as the Accessible Air Transportation (“ACCESS”) Advisory Committee. So we let them know we’d like to be part of the process, initially through our comment below on this page. We specifically volunteered to help through our letter nominating our Director of Government Relations (Brad Morris) to serve on the ACCESS Advisory Committee, emailed April 7th:

PSDP ACCESS Nomination 040616

Our nomination was successful, and Brad represented service animal users as a committee co-chair in the half-year process.

What’s happening now

The Reg Neg process did not result in a consensus report from the committee. However, this does not mean that there weren’t several points of agreement. Under the heading of “United Service Animal Users, Supporters, and Advocates” (USAUSA), Brad Morris teamed up with Jenine Stanley (from Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs) to document the reasonable compromise positions that arose during the process.

USAUSA gathered support from advocate and industry groups, as 23 parties signed on to various sections. This detailed document is intended to assist DOT in drafting new regulations to be put forward in a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

USAUSA ACAA Service Animal Pre-NPRM Comment

This comment is also posted on the regulations.gov site:

https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOT-OST-2015-0246-0290

DOT may be coming out with a service animal NPRM in the relatively near future. At that point, we’ll be evaluating and responding to what DOT produces.

DOT’s contractor, Econometrica, contacted us on December 7th ask us for information about the burdens related to the current regulations’ medical documentation provision. Our stellar community rallied to fill out a survey on a tight deadline so we could submit the following report to aid DOT in the update.

USAUSA ACAA SA DOT Info Request

This is also posted as a public comment in the Reg Neg docket:

https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOT-OST-2015-0246-0296

 

How to help

Representatives of stakeholder groups are quite welcome to contact us about our comment, but it’s much better to tell DOT you support it. As of this writing, there are still primary documents in the docket folder that are open for comment, and this is a way to communicate publicly with DOT.

The next clear opportunity for private citizens to make a difference will be when new regulations are proposed. At that point, you’ll have the chance to give feedback to DOT to let them know whether you support the regulations they propose, just like you may be used to with other proposed regulations. You’ll also be able to read our comment on the NPRM once we have a chance to draft it, and can then decide whether to voice support for that comment, too.

 


 

What we did before the Reg Neg meetings

This process takes cooperation and consensus, so PSDP’s ACAA committee created a proposal we thought would meet everyone’s goals and work well in practice. We asked for your feedback on this proposal in a community survey. The proposal, survey results, and an explanatory guide are all linked in the section about our ACAA resources at the top of this page.

Some community members helped earlier by telling DOT that PSDP represents you as a psychiatric service dog handler. We appreciate it, because this gives us clout in the process. That means we have a stronger voice in representing you!

We talked with the independent evaluator (“convener”), and he issued his report stating that the Reg Neg process would be useful for the service animal issues. In the spirit of a Reg Neg, we widened support around our proposal with other stakeholder groups.

The original official information about the Reg Neg process is linked below, and you can see there what other people and groups wrote to the convener about the then-prospective Reg Neg.

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/12/07/2015-30764/nondiscrimination-on-the-basis-of-disability-in-air-travel-consideration-of-negotiated-rulemaking

 


 

Our comment

A printable (pdf) version of PSDP’s ACAA Reg Neg Comment is also available, linked just below. This format may be easier for some to read.

PSDP ACAA Reg Neg comment

 

Mr. Richard Parker, Convener
UCONN School of Law
55 Elizabeth St.
Hartford, CT 06105

RE: DOT–OST– 2015–0246, Department of Transportation negotiated rulemaking proposal

Mr. Parker:

I am writing to submit our nonprofit as an ideal candidate for full participation in the present negotiated rulemaking proposal.

Psychiatric Service Dog Partners (PSDP) is in many ways the successor organization to the group cited in the first footnote of the present ACAA negotiated rulemaking (Reg Neg) proposal (that group was Psychiatric Service Dog Society). As such, we have fostered an enduring and vested interest in rectifying and refining some of the issues with the current incarnation of the ACAA regulations. We would welcome the opportunity to bring our unique expertise to bear in the proposed Reg Neg.

PSDP is a peer advocacy group representing primarily the interests of those with psychiatric disabilities who take an active role in their recovery through the use of a service dog. However, we have routinely taken up the broader mantle of general service dog user advocacy—irrespective of the type of the mitigated disabilities—as there is sometimes a lack of either participation, experience, or requisite foresight in this sparsely populated field. In this capacity, we have influentially advised legislators, regulators, field administrators, and businesses at local, state, and federal levels. For highlights of our activities, please refer to the advocacy portion of our website:

Service Dog Advocacy

Kelsey and Kona stand with luggage at the airport, ready for equal ACAA access.

We’re ready to fly!

In all advocacy matters, as our record reflects, we are especially keen to see systems in place that are both practicable and fair for all parties involved. This includes respecting and justly balancing the interests of service dog users, others with disabilities who are not service dog users (including emotional support animal users), business employees, security personnel, and members of the general public.

We look forward to a dialogue that will honor the values we know we share with the DOT, the TSA, airline industry personnel, conscientious members of the public, and our sister advocacy groups. PSDP’s community and leaders have been optimistically waiting for this opportunity to take flight for years—we have actively developed our resources and collective wisdom in the years since our predecessor organization filed its DOT petition—and we thank you and the DOT for getting the engines firing again!

Warm and sincere regards,
Veronica Morris, PhD
President & Executive Director