For Disabled Fliers, TSA Adds Insult To Injury

Posted: 07/16/2012 7:15 am
Reposted from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-elliott/for-disabled-fliers-tsa-adds-insult_b_1674523.html

If you thought the TSA’s reputation as America’s worst federal agency couldn’t get any worse — and after its recent PR disasters, I wouldn’t blame you — you might want to think again.

Last week brought fresh evidence that our airport screeners are working even harder to be reviled by the public they’re assigned to protect.

 Both incidents involve young passengers with disabilities. The first one happened to a young deaf passenger traveling to a conference in Louisville. He alleges agents belittled him (I can’t repeat the exact words they allegedly used), stole his candy and devoured it in front of him.

The second incident involves a cancer patient on his way to Disneyland, having his prosthetic leg screened by a TSA agent. A photo of the search provoked widespread outrage. My colleague Lisa Simeone covered the fallout on the watchdog site TSA News.

The TSA issued a statement on its blog, denying the deaf passenger was mistreated. It said it had the pictures to disprove it.

“After a review of the video, TSA found no footage that matches the information in the blog post, such as Officers removing food during any bag search and eating it, or anything to indicate that they were pointing at and ridiculing a passenger,” it said.

A blog post written by the deaf passenger has since been removed, and the author has asked other media outlets to unpublish the article.

 TSA hasn’t commented on the photo of the child being screened. It doesn’t really have to. No one seems to care what the agency has to say anymore.

Was that a doctored photo? Was the deaf passenger harassed by agents? What does it matter? They just wouldn’t put anything past the TSA.

Just in case you’re one of the three readers who are still concerned with the facts, here are a few to chew on. The TSA has a long history of targeting the disabled, as I documented in a post last year.

Since then, it’s kept the most defenseless air travelers in its crosshairs.

In May, radio host Laura Ingraham reported a legless Afghanistan war veteran being given a very thorough once-over by TSA agents at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Our vets, she added, “deserve better.” (She’s right.)

A few weeks before, it aggressively screened a seven-year-old female passenger with cerebral palsy, causing her family to miss their flight. The girl, Dina Frank, was waiting to board a flight departing from JFK Airport in New York to Florida, when agents insisted on conducting a thorough search of her and her crutches — this was at the gate, after the girl had already gone through security at the checkpoint.

Elderly passengers with mobility challenges are also a favorite target. Just a few days before they went after the disabled girl, a passenger flying out of Palm Beach International Airport claims agents refused to let her walk through a magnetometer and gave her an invasive pat-down.

Her crime? Using a cane.

“I was groped inappropriately in all strategic areas, hands placed down my pants in a manner I never imagined possible for a middle-aged woman with a cane,” she wrote on a consumer complaint site. “The point was very clear; to punish and retaliate against me because I opted out of the non-metal scanner.”

When it comes to the way TSA treats disabled travelers, is any horror story true until proven otherwise? I can’t fault the flying public for thinking so.

To the agency’s credit, it has changed the way it screens some passengers as a result of recent complaints. A few months ago, the TSA declared that passengers 75 and over could keep their shoes and light jackets on at the screening area. But to many critics, the agency just created yet another class of “special” passenger, which some disability advocates find offensive. Their goal is to be treated like everyone else — no better, no worse.

Pope John Paul II once said that society can be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members. Last week, the TSA added insult to injury for its most vulnerable passengers. And it seems passengers have already judged them for it

 Mia’s thoughts-At the time of posting this I am half way through a conspircy theory fictional novel, based on my own real life horror experience at the hand of the TSA. The book is titled 14 DAYS

HERE IS AN EXCERPT-http://disabledaccessdenied.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/an-unedited-excerpt-from-chapter-one-of-14-days-a-new-novel-by-mia-g-vayner/

an unedited excerpt from Chapter one of “14 Days” a new novel by Mia G Vayner

  Here is a sneek preview of my latest novel that deals with survivng child abuse and dealing with TSA abuse and what I discovered when I sought out profesional help. Chapter One

The last 6 months had been the best of times and the worst of times, the good was 6 months on The sunshine coast of Queensland Australia.In Australia There’s a sense of humour the Aussies have, Shorty is really 6 feet tall, tiny weighs 400lbs and as we found out all too late sunshine was in hiding for most of summer 2011 on the sunshine coast!.

The distance between rural Australia and main street USA was never more apparent as we rolled off the Qantas flight from hell qf 108,actually  it came from Sydney. But when you’re on a flight for 14 hours and they forget to board any vegan food, and they give away your upgrade to 3 seats to yourself then They put you a wheelchair using disabled person not in your own aisle, but in  a group of 5 squeezed between a Hasidic couple with screaming toddlers and smelly businessman who Thought showering is a fad that will pass you quickly forget the harbour bridge and opera house. You start to think you flew over a ferryman on the river Styx with the faint lyrics to Chris de burghs “don’t pay the ferryman playing  in your ears.

We were met by a very apologetic agent from Qantas special services dept, who swore  the food was arranged and the seats were guaranteed .The short Mexican woman was cute and no more than a 100lbs  and had an annoying habit of texting and never making eye contact  but she managed to efficiently  get us through customs and get our luggage on the way to a routine (or so I thought) TSA  check point. I had survived 9/11 and my wife and sister in-law were right there, so I know what the worst bad security or no security can let happen is  but the TSA is a gangly half trained group that is as far as security goes as useful as sending a seventh grade quarter back out to face William the fridge Perry for all the good they do. Despite my misgivings  my audience before them was demanded, so I rolled into the cattle yard of a line up  and proceeded to put  my shoes laptop, and jewellery in the plastic boxes and waited to be pushed through into a special area where wheelchairs and their occupants were routinely checked.

  As I approached I noticed small aisles similar to a Pathmark checkout line, and immediately realised none were wide enough.”Excuse me officer. yes over here um the aisles which one?” SHUT UP AND WAIT TILL WE SPEAK TO YOU the Tom Sellicks wanna be barked. “But sir the aisles” I SAID SHUT UP AND WAIT The wannabe commando yelled, finally I blurted “the aisles are not wide enough for my chair”. He shouted over his shoulder “can we get this loudmouth through and out of my hair”? A short Hispanic man in blue pushed me around the office style dividers and back in the front end of the conveyor belts. all through this my special services agent was busy texting someone who made her smile. As I was imagining her conversation, a tall African American, or possible Jamaican women in her twenties said in a barely literate sentence “can y’all stand up”? To which I replied no I’m in a wheelchair. “Yeah but can ya stand?” ,again I said “as I said I’m in a wheelchair”.  She then knocked the wind out of my sails as she blurted loudly “I need ya’ll to git over in the corner and stand there for about 5 minutes while we all search ya chair” . I laughed and said “are you serious” she just mechanically repeated herself to which I replied I cannot .She then spoke onto her shoulder microphone and said “we have a suspicious passenger, I’m requesting a private room for a full search” as I heard her words my stomach jumped into my mouth, and I asked why? She informed me I had refused a reasonable request to stand up and walk over to the corner,  I said loudly “you cannot be serious do you not understand disability?” To which she replied “what I understand is none of your business I gave an order and ya’ll refused so you’re getting private and getting searched”. Just then the same short Hispanic gentleman walked over and enquired why a room was needed, and a short discussion ensued and I was pushed to the door of a occupied room and told to wait, when I asked what the room was for I was told this is where full body and cavity searches were carried out.

A sweat broke out I started to have shakes, I fought back the tears of fear remembering my brother a soldier used to say “if you cry you give the bastards the satisfaction “.

 I started to beg, Memories of child hood molestation filled my head and I pleaded loudly for a full 15 minutes and I thanked the universe that whoever was in the room was either guilty as hell and being held or taking their time dressing because it allowed me time to plead my case.  The man in blue came over, I bit my lip to keep my composure and explained the stupidity of her request and that the only way I could comply was after neurological surgery because walking was impossible. He seemed to ignore me, and I heard the ignorant guard responsible for my plight tell him “she didn’t know what disability meant and thought wheelchairs were what rich white folk rode in when they got rich and didn’t want to walk any more”! I was almost into full seizure at the impending search, and then out of the mist a woman who looked like sweet mrs C from Happy days came over. Evidently she had overheard the ludicrous statements regarding why people used wheelchairs.  She apologised  and proceeded to conduct a quick wanding and I was on my way to the plane.

As we flew back to NYC  the hours ticked over the mist and fog got heavier, outside it was blue skies but the inclement weather was in my head in my life  and no sign of it clearing anytime soon. By the time we landed at jfk, they may as well have  invaded  every orifice and felt my most personal places because the combination of the flash backs to childhood molestation combined with my wild flying thoughts of what they could have done had me almost catatonic. As soon as we arrived back on the upper east side in our apartment, using the guise of jet lag I retreated further and further into the darkness of my mind and stayed that way until dirt and odour would pry me from my sheets.

 I would arise  only long enough for a shower a bed change and the smallest required meal I could find.  At an age where I would never see fifty again I thought the horror of my childhood was long gone, but in those early weeks my poor Ella barely slept.  I woke up screaming so often curled in the foetal position, that the few hours she didn’t  spend at her magazine were spent wearily assuring me the monsters lived only in my head and my past.