Opening Remarks: Launch of Communication Barriers Report

Speech by
Marian Robson
Canadian Transportation Agency
November 20, 1997

On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I would like to thank you for joining us today as we launch this Report on barriers to communication facing persons with disabilities who travel by air.

I would like to welcome the members of the International Civil Aviation Organization. I know that many of you have been meeting since monday to review guidance material related to the transportation of persons with disabilities. We appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to join us for this important event.

I also know that many of the other people in this room have been busy all day discussing an air travel guide for persons with disabilities. Your expertise as representatives of persons with disabilities and the air travel industry is very valuable to us.

As some of you may not be familiar with the Agency's mandate, let me outline our role with respect to accessible transportation and international agreements.

The Agency has the power to ensure that all modes of transportation under federal jurisdiction do not pose undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities. As such, the Agency resolves applications filed by persons with disabilities, and develops regulations and codes of practice.

On the international front, the Agency plays an important role in administering international air agreements as the Canadian aeronautical authority.

It is encouraging to see that ICAO is working on practices that will contribute greatly to establishing international standards with respect to accessibility. Canada's reputation as a leader in the area of accessibility is well recognized. We will continue to be an active partner in this area.

Just over a year ago, some of us met in Ottawa to launch the Agency's Air Code of Practice on Aircraft Accessibility. Today's launch of a report on barriers to communication represents yet another important milestone in making the federal air transportation network more accessible to persons with disabilities.

Developing regulations pertaining to accessibility and overseeing their application to all modes of transportation under federal jurisdiction is an important aspect of the Agency's mandate. However, the Agency also explores alternatives to regulations in keeping with the government's policy to effect change through non-regulatory measures. The development of codes of practice and of reports such as the communication barriers report are two such innovative alternatives.

Before presenting the recommendations contained in the report, let me first explain its genesis.

In January 1995, the Agency received a request from the National President of the Canadian Council of the Blind, Mr. John Bullen, concerning a number of issues related to the communication of information to persons traveling by air who have a visual impairment. In responding to this request, the Agency decided to expand the scope of the investigation to include communication issues for all persons with sensory or cognitive disabilities.

More than 50 groups representing persons with sensory or cognitive disabilities, as well as air carriers and airport operators were consulted.

These extensive consultations provided the basis for an interim communications barriers report which was sent to members of the Agency's advisory committee and groups representing persons with sinsory or cognitive disabilities for their feedback.

The final report which we release today reflects comments received throughout this process. Some of its recommendations could be implemented soon. For example, the recommendation for improving the public announcements inside air terminals and for ensuring that dedicated pen and paper be available at every check-in counter to facilitate communication with travelers who are deaf and hard of hearing.

One of the innovative aspects of this report lies in its preventive approach to removing obstacles. Recommendation 8, which applies to both air carriers and airport operators, deals with technological changes and new developments. New technologies are gradually allowing service providers to make their vehicles and infrastructure much more accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Agency recommends that, when developing these new technologies or facilities, the needs of persons with disabilities always be considered fully. As you know, it is less expensive to build in accessibility features at the conception stage than it is to retrofit. Both consumers and service providers will find this recommendation beneficial.

A further element in this report is the formation of joint industry- consumer working groups to encourage implementation of the recommendations and to tackle specific issues.

The first group met today to develop an information brochure which will provide specific facts to assist travellers with disabilities to become better informed consumers.

A second working group will meet tomorrow to start work on developing an alternative format policy for the production of transportation documents which air carriers and airport operators could adopt.

I will close now and offer to our guests the opportunity to say a few words. As you read our report, you will become aware that the agency has achieved an important step in reaching its objective of expanding communication with participants in the canadian transportation system.

Thank you.

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