An advisory group to the Transportation Department (DOT) has reached an agreement designed to improve lavatory access for disabled passengers on single-aisle commercial aircraft. A second proposal would improve in-flight entertainment for blind and deaf passengers.

The group, called the Access Advisory Committee, was comprised of a DOT official and representatives of airlines, flight attendants, aircraft manufacturers, motion picture studios and persons with disabilities, the DOT said.

According to the DOT, single-aisle airplane lavatories are currently too small for people who are wheelchair-bound.

That wouldn't change immediately under the committee's proposal. But beginning with aircraft delivered three years after the rule takes effect, airlines would have to take limited measures to ease bathroom use by the disabled. Such measures would include the installation of pull-up handles and the sizing of toilets to be between 17 and 19 inches high.

Only a full 20 years after the rule is finalized would new single-aisle planes be required to have wheelchair-accessible lavatories equivalent to those found on widebody aircraft.

The trade organization Airlines for America lauded the proposal.

"A4A was proud to support our members on the Access Advisory Committee and we commend DOT and our participating partners for taking a collaborative approach toward delivering solutions that offer a great benefit to the traveling public," said David Berg, the group's general counsel.

Along with the proposals related to laboratories, the advisory committee recommended that carriers be required to offer in-flight entertainment in closed-captioned and audio-described versions to facilitate enjoyment by deaf and blind passengers. The provision would apply to all entertainment systems on new aircraft as well as systems installed on a carrier's existing planes beginning with the effective date of the rule.

The DOT said it plans to begin the formal rulemaking process for the proposals next July.


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