Disability rights in transportation

Learn about disability rights laws covering public and private transport, air travel and gas stations as well as tax exemptions

There are federal and state laws in place to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in transportation. These laws aim to remove barriers and uphold equal access. This page outlines the civil rights protections for people with disabilities, obligations for transportation providers, and recourse options.

The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) can help people learn about how disability rights apply in transportation. We can also tell you what options you have to resolve problems. MOD is not an enforcement agency.

Table of Contents

Federal laws: Public and private transportation and airplane travel

Americans with Disabilities Act: Title IIB Transportation

Americans with Disabilities Act: Title IIB Transportation (42 U.S.C. Section 12141, et seq.)

Public transportation services, such as buses, subways and rail transit systems, may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the ways they provide their services. 

Transit authorities that operate fixed route bus or rail systems must provide comparable paratransit or other special transportation services to individuals with disabilities who cannot use fixed route bus services, unless an undue burden would result.

New public transit buses and rail vehicles ordered after August 26, 1990 must be wheelchair accessible. As of July 26, 1995, existing rail systems were required to have one accessible car per train. Key stations in rapid, light, and commuter rail systems and all existing Amtrak stations must be accessible. Private businesses that provide public transportation services have the same requirements as public transit agencies, except for automobiles. New over-the-road buses (Greyhound-type) must be accessible. Private businesses that provide transportation (such as hotels) must ensure disabled persons a level of service equivalent to that provided to the general public.

Under Title III, the ADA also imposes restrictions on private transportation providers that offer their services to the public. The FTA and DOJ have a memorandum of understanding to streamline the enforcement process. 

Recourse and enforcement

If an individual is having an issue with a Regional Transport Authority, it makes sense to complain to them first. If that does not resolve the matter, then the individual can contact the Federal Transport Administration.

If a transport provider has not fulfilled their ADA obligations, a complaint can be filed with one of the enforcement agencies:

U.S. Department of Transportation

Federal Transit Administration
Kendall Square
55 Broadway, Suite 920
Cambridge, MA 02142-1093
Phone: (617) 494-2055
Fax: (617) 494-2865

U.S. Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section - NYA
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 
Washington, D.C. 20530
(800) 514-0301 (Voice) - (800) 514-0383 (TTY)

Federal Air Carrier Access Act

Federal Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S.C. Section 41705)

Domestic air carriers may not refuse persons with disabilities transportation because of their disability. Air carriers may not:

  • limit the number of persons with disabilities on a flight;
  • require advance notice except for certain accommodations;
  • require travel with an attendant except in limited circumstances; or
  • charge for accommodations required by the law.

In addition, air carriers must: provide boarding assistance and assistance within the cabin and give priority to storage of wheelchairs. New aircraft over certain sizes must have movable armrests, accessible lavatories, and space for storing wheelchairs (the larger the aircraft the more access is required). Air carriers must establish their own compliance procedure, and must designate “complaints resolution officials” (CROs).

Recourse and enforcement

If an individual is having a disability rights issue with an airline, it makes sense to contact their complaint resolution official (CRO) first. Airlines are required to make a CRO available, at no cost, in person at the airport or by telephone, during all times they are operating. The US Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration are the enforcement agencies for different aspects of air travel.

DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division’s Disability Hotline

Contact the DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division’s Disability Hotline when you encounter a problem that the airline’s CRO cannot resolve. They can provide basic information and try to resolve issues in real time. The hotline is staffed Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, ET, except on holidays.


Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75

Contact the Aviation Consumer Protection Division if you have an issue with an airline service that is not related to safety/security. There is no specific time limit for your complaint. You can file a complaint with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division online.

U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC  20590
(202) 366-2220

Federal Aviation Administration

Contact the Federal Aviation Administration if you believe an airport or a business operating at the airport (not an airline) has discriminated against you based on disability. The complaint should be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation. You can file a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration online.

Federal Aviation Administration
Office of Civil Rights, ACR-1
800 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20591
Fax: 202-267-8341

State laws: Tax exemptions and gas station accessibility

Massachusetts Automobile Excise Tax Exemption

Massachusetts Automobile Excise Tax Exemption (M.G.L. c. 60A, Section l)

Certain people with disabilities and certain disabled veterans are exempted from automobile excise tax requirements. The motor vehicle must be owned and registered by a veteran who meets certain criteria or a person who has suffered loss or permanent loss of use of both legs or both arms or loss of vision of both eyes to a certain degree. The exemption applies to one motor vehicle per person, owned and registered for their personal, noncommercial use.

Apply for an exemption

Applications for exemptions are available from the local town assessor’s office.

Massachusetts Automobile Sales Tax Exemption

Massachusetts Automobile Sales Tax Exemption (M.G.L. c. 64H, Section 6(U))

This law exempts certain disabled veterans and certain other people with disabilities from paying purchase and use tax when they buy a motor vehicle. To qualify, the motor vehicle must be purchased by and for a person who is a permanently disabled veteran or a person who has the permanent loss of use of both legs or both arms or one leg and one arm. Parents and legal guardians who transport children or adults under guardianship who would qualify for the exemption under Section 6(U) because of their disability may also be entitled to this exemption. See DOR Directive 03-11: Sales Tax on Motor Vehicles Purchased for Use in Transporting Persons Qualifying For Exemption under G.L. c. 64H, s. 6(u).

The Department of Revenue has clarified that a wheelchair lift used to make a van accessible may also be exempt even if purchased separately from the vehicle. In cases where the lift is purchased after the van, a physician’s prescription may be needed to document this exemption. See DOR Directive 00-7: Sales of Lifts installed in Motor Vehicles.

The form to apply for a sales and use tax exemption on a motor vehicle is available on DOR’s website—select MVU33: Affidavit in Support of a Claim for Exemption from Sales or Use Tax for a Motor Vehicle Transferred to a Disabled Person. 

Contact information

Department of Revenue

Customer Service Bureau
P.O. Box 7010,
Boston, MA 02204
617-887-MDOR (6367), 
Toll-free in Massachusetts 800-392-6089, 617-887-6140 (TTY)

Massachusetts Gas Station Law

Massachusetts Gas Station Law (G.L. c. 94, Section 295CC)

Both full-service and self-service gas stations must assist people who have a disability plate or placard with pumping gas. This applies to standard disability ("HP") plates and placards and disabled veteran plates and placards. The gas station must display signs in a prominent location stating its compliance with the provisions of this law. Requirements for these signs are overseen by the Division of Standards.

Note: The Americans with Disabilities Act also directs gas stations to assist people with disabilities.

Enforcement agency

Executive Office of Consumer Affairs

Division of Standards
One Ashburton Place, Room 1115
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 727-3480

Further information

If after reading the information on this page, you have disability-related questions, MOD can discuss how disability rights laws may apply to your specific situation. We can also tell you what options are available to resolve problems. MOD is not an enforcement agency.

Use our contact form to give us the key details of your situation and your questions. 

Date published: October 16, 2023

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