CORVALLIS, Ore. – About 80 percent of people with disabilities from a survey of members of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society say they find air travel to be reasonably accessible and comfortable – their leading concerns were ground transportation and baggage claim at the final destination, and the need for adequate assistive equipment.

Some of their other complaints, in fact, are similar to those that might apply to any traveler – such as struggling through long lines of airport security, poorly marked signage to load and unload, and getting to the gate on time. They also weren’t too enthused about the width or comfort of airline seats.

The survey was conducted by the National Center for Accessible Transportation in the Oregon State University College of Engineering. Multiple sclerosis is a disease that in different patients can cause a diverse range of physical, cognitive, vision or hearing disabilities.

“There are still areas we can improve upon, but in general the people we surveyed felt contented with air travel, and believed that their needs were being reasonably accommodated,” said Katharine Hunter-Zaworski, director of the National Center of Accessible Transportation.

Among the conclusions of the study:

- More than half of the respondents had not traveled by air in the past five years, mostly because they had no need to, or it was too expensive. Only about 15 percent said it was too uncomfortable or accommodations were inadequate.

- About 80 percent of respondents said they had a good experience traveling by plane at some point in the past.

- Automobiles were the main transport for about 80 percent of the people who said they never used any form of public transportation.

- More than 30 percent of respondents who had traveled by air in the past said they “feel I lose self respect.”

- Individuals with a mobility impairment strongly preferred mechanical assistance from a tarmac, as compared to being carried by two agents on stairs.

- Some of the leading complaints about assistive personnel were that they were not aware of disability characteristics, did not ask questions about what was needed, did not wait for instructions before helping, and were not adequately concerned with the person’s dignity.

- Some cultural and training inadequacies were also pointed out – the ability to speak English was considered very important, as was concern about safety, and skill in providing safe assistance.

This study is one part of a national survey of travelers with disabilities and was funded by the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. The survey was coordinated by Virginia Lesser, director of the Survey Research Center at OSU.


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Katharine Hunter-Zaworski,