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Disabled Flyers Reach Agreement, Gain Equal Access

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DETROIT (WWJ) – Flying just got easier for people with disabilities thanks to a landmark case settled in Metro Detroit.

Five disabled Michigan residents have reached a settlement with the Wayne County Airport Authority and Delta Airlines after being denied equal access to air travel and facilities.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit in April 2008 by Attorney Richard Bernstein, sought to end Northwest (purchased by Delta after the suit was filed) and the Airport Authority’s failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Air Carrier Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

“You’ve gone from the days of leaving a disabled person on a tarmack for five hours to the days that we’re gonna now have in front of us where diabled people are now going to be vauled, are going to be made as a priority,” Bernstein said in an interview with WWJ Newsradio 950.

“I think that what happens is that through litigation you really do have social change, because the airlines realize that, you know what? It’s the right thing to do,” Bernstein said.

Hear our complete interview with Richard Bernstein:

Bernstein filed the suit on behalf of the five residents, including Jill Babcock and Deborah Thomas. Babcock is a Farmington resident whose wheelchair incurred repeated damage on Northwest flights and was also given to another disabled passenger by mistake. She was also denied accessible parking at Detroit Metro Airport. Thomas is a Detroit resident who is disabled due to childhood polio and has been forced to stand in line, when physically unable to do so.

Bernstein says after three and a half years in the court system he applauds the Wayne County Airport Authority and Delta Airlines for settling.  The settlement means adjustments will be made to accommodate disabled fliers at the curb, in the parking garage, in terminals and on shuttle buses. They have three years to comply.

According to an order signed by U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh, Delta and the Airport Authority will make significant modifications – and in some cases already have – to Detroit Metro Airport’s McNamara Terminal, North Terminal, parking garages, Westin Hotel and Airport shuttle buses, in order to legally accommodate disabled passengers. The plaintiffs and defendants have also agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.

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