Well folks we made it home in one piece, barely! After a disgusting flight back from Australia to New York on Qantas (that’s another story for another time). We arrived at Los Angeles Airport to connect flights to New York City, a Qantas special services assistant escorted me and my spouse through customs and baggage pickup to security where I was immediately met with an aggressive officer who treated me like a criminal and told me to stop talking when I was merely asking which aisle should I roll into as neither would fit my wheelchair. After being gruffly pushed through a aisle that was barely as wide as my chair a large African American TSA female officer asked me could I stand. I told her “no,” I had limited mobility. She then told me, “but you have to lift yourself completely so we can search your chair.” Bewildered, I informed her I travel regularly and was usually asked to lean forward and hold my thighs so they could check behind me, then outstretch my arms, lean left then right so they could check the sides of my chair and between my body and the frame. In response to that she called a supervisor and told them I was refusing to co-operate and stand up so she wanted a cavity search. Really? She was requesting a private room where I would be told to strip and agree to a nude search. I nervously made a joke saying “could we at least date or you buy me dinner before we got naked.” She didn’t get the joke. I kept repeating “I’m cooperating fully, if you bring a chair here I’ll transfer and you can search my wheelchair.” I was told to be quiet or I was going to be stripped in a private room. I luckily had a witness from Qantas Special Services (which is a division any disabled person should know of and always ask for as they exist only as special help for the disabled travellers). If that witness wasn’t there I doubt anyone would believe this drama ever happened. I’m not nearly the only one nor the worst example of this, recently a quadraplegic Iraq Vet arrived at an US airport and was forced out of his chair by TSA and made to crawl through the scanning machine as they didn’t believe he was disabled and therefore would not let him board his flight until he was screened to their satisfaction. At this stage, I asked for a supervisor and only after 15 minutes of being threatened with the degradation of being lifted out of my chair, placed on a exam bench naked and have every body cavity invaded did a senior female excuse the aggressive TSA officer and do the very search I was used to whenever I travelled. So the government is hiring people who, as this women admitted in front of witnesses, do not understand why people use wheelchairs and thinks we just like wheeling instead of walking and we better bloody well jump up when told or bend over and grab the table.
What are we meant to do TSA?
Are we magically meant to be cured?
If you can pull that off please tell the medical community because if you think for one moment we want these damn wheels, we want someone to lift us in and out of bed like roast out of an oven, if you think the most disabled of us want someone else to wash us and wipe our ass, your as stupid as the people you are employing. We are intelligent people who when presented with these situations try to make YOUR job easy because when it is so become our lives.
My suggestion is this: TSA, put the TSA officers in a room with doctors who specialize in spinal injuries and neurological disorders, actual disabled people representing the different forms of illness that make a person wheelchair bound and don’t let them out until they have spent a day being trained. Keep then in that room until they understand the different needs of different people and how to respectfully do their job while allowing us to keep our dignity. This isn’t rocket science but apparently it is a mystery to some.
In closing we are not asking for special consideration. We already know that terrorist groups regularly straps bombs on disabled people as suicide bombers and that some criminals will go to amazing extents to use even a wheelchair to conceal drugs and weapons so of course we should be checked. The question is should our dignity be the price we are asked to surrender if we want to travel or have to for work? Clearly the answer is NO!
So TSA, get it right and through your skulls if I can’t walk and I can’t stand you can strip me naked as often as you want but I won’t bend over for you or anybody no matter how pretty blue the latex gloves are!
Respect our Existance or Expect our Resisitance