Airlines would be required to improve accessibility for travelers with disabilities on many of their planes under a proposed new rule.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently proposed a rule requiring that all new single-aisle aircraft with 125 or more seats have at least one accessible lavatory. The restroom would need to be large enough to allow a passenger with a disability to “approach, enter, and maneuver” and use all of the facilities — with the help of an assistant, if needed — and leave using the onboard wheelchair.

At present, accessible restrooms are only mandated on planes with more than one aisle. But, federal officials note that the overwhelming majority of domestic flights — including those going across the country — are flown on single-aisle aircraft. This leaves people with disabilities to avoid flying or to resort to dehydrating themselves, use adult diapers or catheters.

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“Far too often, travelers with disabilities don’t have the opportunity to fly to their destinations because they can’t access the lavatories on most airplanes,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “This rule would make airplane lavatories more accessible for passengers with disabilities, and bring us one step closer to the day when air travel is possible for everyone.”

Under the proposal, the requirements would apply to aircraft that are ordered 18 years after the rule takes effect or delivered 20 years after the effective date. The timeline is the result of a 2016 agreement between disability organizations, the Association of Flight Attendants, Airbus and airlines. However, the Transportation Department is seeking comments on whether a more expedited timeline is possible and the agency said it could alter the implementation timetable in the final rule.

The proposed rule is the second in recent years seeking to update Air Carrier Access Act regulations to address restroom accessibility on planes. In 2020, the Transportation Department issued another proposed rule calling for accessibility improvements that stopped short of requiring a larger size lavatory. However, the agency received so many comments at the time in favor of expanding the physical size of onboard restrooms that the agency has elected to address both rules collectively.

The Transportation Department called the latest proposal one of its “highest priority regulatory initiatives” because it would promote access and decrease discrimination.

Charles Brown, president of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, said that changes cannot come soon enough.

“We are pleased that the Department of Transportation is now moving this long overdue rule forward and see it as one step closer to equitable treatment,” Brown said. “We cannot underscore the importance of having dignified access to lavatories for our physical health and well-being, and we must have lavatory access as soon as possible.”

The proposed rule will be up for public comment until May 27.

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