Not “Disabled Enough”: Nathalie Allport-Grantham Goes to Stansted Airport

This happened just after New Year’s, and I’m just hearing about it now. Happy New Year to Nathalie Allport-Grantham, who experienced a particularly annoying variation of discrimination  due to  not looking “disabled enough” to the staff at the Stansted airport in the UK.

Image on "Airport" written in lights in block letters on a black background. Keyword: Allport-Grantham

Image Description: “Airport” in block letters, in lights, against a black background.

Content Note: Ableism, not “disabled enough”, discrimination by airlines, non-apology

“But You Don’t Look Sick”

For those of you who haven’t read thoughts on this before (by me or by other writers in the disability community, because not looking “disabled enough” is unfortunately a common experience among disabled people), here’s the breakdown:  There’s this perception out there, held mostly by non-disabled people, that if someone doesn’t have some sort of sign of a physical disability (like, they’re using a mobility aid or there’s some bodily sign of disability), they’re not really disabled. It’s outright wrong, and offensive enough on its own, but people tend to rub salt in the wound by asking for (sometimes demanding), when they’ve no authority to do so, proof of disability if there’s some sort of disability accommodation involved.

Like when Kanye West sent his staff into the audience to check that audience members that weren’t standing during his concert when he demanded they do so actually couldn’t stand.

(No disability accommodation involved there; Kanye just wanted everyone to stand while he was singing.)

Underlying this desire to “check” is an assumption that a person who says they’re disabled but doesn’t look “disabled enough” is lying; it leads to behaviour like people leaving notes that say “FAKER” by disabled parking passes. There are a lot of people out there who like to act as self-appointed assessors of degree of disability and policers of “fakers”. Some of them take it upon themselves to accordingly mete out justice.

It’s not the public’s role to do any of that. When a non-disabled person on the street assumes that they have the power and the right to assess disability and its degree, and therefore eligibility or ineligibility for a support (and to demand “proof” if a person doesn’t seem disabled to them) is indicative of deep and insidious ableism. The non-disabled person’s belief that they have power over disabled people is clearly on display.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Marfan Syndrome, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and uses a wheelchair part-time, experienced an extreme example of this in Stansted Airport in the UK.

It was truly unacceptable – yet another sign of how the airline industry in general needs to get its act together when it comes to service for its disabled customers.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham and Stansted Airport

Nathalie Allport-Grantham uses a wheelchair part-time, but opted not to bring one on her trip out of Stansted Airport, as she was told that the airport could provide one. This service proved less than reliable, but the real trouble started when she and her boyfriend tried to check in at the gate for their flight with Ryanair. She was not in the wheelchair at the time; she’d had to walk to the gate from a nearby lounge, because the staff in the lounge that had taken the airport wheelchair and promised to bring it back and didn’t.)

As Allport-Grantham told The Independent, the woman at the gate decided that she didn’t need help.

“…I told the lady on duty that I had booked special assistance and needed help with my bags and to get on the aircraft.

“She looked at me and said, ‘If you want someone to carry your bags, you’ll have to pay £50.’

“I told her I had pre-booked disability assistance and I need help getting onto the aircraft.

“She said, ‘I’m actually waiting for someone who cannot walk, if you want to get on the plane I suggest you queue up like everyone else. If you don’t want to carry your bag, it’s £50 to have it put in the hold.’

“The person she was waiting for was me, but she expected someone who looked more ‘disabled’ than I do.

“Then she said loudly, in earshot of everyone at the gate: ‘I’ve got disabled people to help and you are wasting my time.’ Everyone was staring. It was humiliating.”

Now, you can argue that the woman at the gate was just doing her job as instructed – she’d presumably been told to look for a person who was much less physically mobile. However, there are a couple of issues with this.

Nathalie Allport-Grantham, Assumptions, and Accommodations Denied

The woman at the  may just have been doing her job, yes. But her perception that just because Allport-Grantham was more mobile than she’d either been explicitly told or that she’d assumed based on given information led her to deny the young woman accommodations to which she was entitled. As I touched on earlier, her behaviour isn’t surprising, given what else Allport-Grantham experienced at the hands of “disability services” at Stansted Airport that day:

  • No lifts available; she was told that staff would have to help her up the stairs into the plane.
  • After checking in at the airport, her boyfriend wheeled her to a lounge in a wheelchair that the airport provided. She transferred into a more comfortable seat, and a staff member took the wheelchair, promising to return it. He never did. It was from here that she had to walk to the gate, five minutes away.
  • She sat on the runway by the plane in an airport wheelchair for ten minutes in the rain before she could get assistance to get on the plane.

But that’s not really the point.

Obviously there are problems with disability services in general that need addressing, but the woman’s behaviour at the gate is especially problematic, as it’s indicative of the deep ableism I talked about earlier. I used a wheelchair on and off for a year after I got out of stroke rehabilitation. Mostly I could get around with my cane, but walking for long distances was very tiring, and it was nice to have the option, on days when my fatigue level was high (or when I wanted to keep it from getting too high too quickly) to be able to use my chair. People with many types of disabilities make use of a wheelchair for exactly the same reasons – you might never see them use a mobility aid, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t use one.

It must have been so frustrating to be in Allport-Grantham’s situation, to have to stay polite after explaining twice that she’d pre-arranged for help to be available, when the person she was talking to  had obviously decided was she wasn’t “disabled enough”  to receive support (even though that’s not her right.)  It must have been so difficult to fight anyway despite the fatigue caused by having to walk to the gate from the lounge on top of the stress of having a plane to catch, and the general stress of travel…,

And to have the woman at the refuse to even investigate whether Allport-Grantham was even right, so sure that she was dealing with a “faker” that she didn’t even ask for her name, so that she could see if Allport-Grantham was actually who she claimed to be…it must have been infuriating, especially in light of the fact that this exact action eventually settled the matter: another staff member stepped in, noticing Allport-Grantham’s tears, checked her name against a list of people who had requested disability services, and verified that she was indeed the person they were waiting for.

Such a simple way to deal with the issue, but so much more effective than saying to a passenger (my paraphrase), “Step aside, faker. You’re wasting my time.” But the woman at the gate’s assumption that Natalie Allport-Grantham was faking a disability so coloured her attitude toward her that she couldn’t be bothered to do even the barest minimum to check a customer’s story.

You’re welcome to argue with me over whether this is ableism, but you can’t deny that it’s horrible customer service.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Stansted Airport

I’ve worked a lot of difference customer service jobs – grocery cashier, ice cream scooper, snack bar attendant in a movie theatre, a brief stint as a cashier in drug store right before my stroke, customer service manager for a website company, customer service for a government agency…

The best advice that I got was when I worked in the grocery store, when my boss once told me that the money that the customers spent in the store was money that went into paying my wages, so it literally paid to keep them happy.

I’m proud of the customer service skills that I’ve developed – and if I was a businessperson who had someone on my staff who:

  • Took a wheelchair that the company provided to a customer, promised to return it, and then didn’t
  • Left a customer sitting in their wheelchair in the rain for ten minutes while luggage was loaded onto the plane
  • Told a customer, any customer, that they were wasting our time,

…there’d have to be a damn good reason for it.

Every time I hear of a story like this, I think not only of the effect on the disabled person involved, but of how short-sighted the business is being.

(Sidebar: It’s hard to know in this case who’s ultimately the most short-sighted, because several organizations are involved: Ryanair presumably employs the woman at the gate, “wheelchair services” within Stansted Airport are provided by a company called Omniserv, which Stansted Airport books with the airlines and the airlines pay for. But Stansted is still responsible for how the services are carried out.)

I don’t quite get it, but given these things, and given the fact that Ryanair’s position on all this was to push it on you, and your position was to push it on Omniserv

If I was still using my wheelchair, instead of driving a little out of my way to fly out of Stansted Airport because of your excellent services for disabled people, I’d rather drive a lot out my way to fly out of an airport where:

  • Omniserv didn’t handle wheelchairs
  • I could get to my destination without having to fly Ryanair
  • Staff have disability sensitivity training (this may not exist; there sure doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for it.)

Bottom line? You wouldn’t get my business. Businesses that make disabled people feel subhuman don’t get my money, and other disabled people get told why. I usually just buy a snack and a magazine in the airport while I’m waiting for a flight, but I guarantee that lots of disabled passengers spend a lot more than that.

Do you want our business or not?

By now, hopefully someone involved in this Stansted Airport clusterfuck has issued Nathalie Allport-Grantham a real apology, instead of the “pass the buck” non-apology she was offered earlier in the month.

If not, someone needs to get on it – this isn’t that difficult.

Via Rail Pushes Back on CTA Ruling on Tie-Down Spots in Passenger Trains

So I was puttering around  on Twitter on Sunday, trying to get an account that I’ve let go shamefully neglected up and functional again…and a long-time colleague (from the US) tweeted a Canadian story about inaccessibility that just made my blood boil. So I abandoned Twitter to rant a bit about Canada’s national passenger train carrier, Via Rail.

With many thanks to Deb. 🙂

Content Note: Accessibility issues, ableism, transportation

Via Rail train, locomotive the most visible (blue, yellow and gray with VIA in yellow block letters across the front) sits in the train yard.

Image Description: Via Rail train, locomotive the most visible (blue, yellow and gray with VIA in yellow letters across the front) sits in the train yard.

I’ve traveled with Via Rail many times, both as a non-disabled passenger and a passenger using a wheelchair, and found them lovely to deal with. However, when I was using a wheelchair, it was a manual chair that could fold up, I could easily transfer in and out of it, and I could walk for short distances using my cane. I was not in anywhere near the same position that married couple Marie Murphy and Martin Anderson are in: They both use electric scooters because of mobility difficulties caused by cerebral palsy. And the fact that VIA trains have only one tie-down space for an electric wheelchair or scooter per train really impacted the amount of traveling they could do together, unless they were willing to have one person’s scooter’s dismantled and treated as luggage. Given that scooters are very expensive (and that airlines that dismantle wheelchairs and scooters  have a bad reputation for damaging them), I understand why handing one’s pricey mobility device over to strangers to be taken apart doesn’t sound like the most attractive of options.  Both Murphy and Anderson have had their scooters damaged because of being put in storage on Via Rail trains.

And the Canadian Transportation Agency agreed with Murphy and Anderson when they formally complained that VIA’s policy of providing only one tie-down spot per train was discriminatory.  The CTA ruled that “all trains coast to coast must double their capacity to accommodate mobility aids and create two tie-down spots.”

Via Rail countered with a policy change:

  • They’d make it possible for two mobility aids to use the one tie-down area, provided that both passengers could safely transfer in and out of a standard seat for the trip.
  • A customer needing the tie-down area who couldn’t transfer to a standard seat could “bump” another mobility aid user from that area, even if they’d previously reserved it.

However, on further questioning, the CTA discovered that Via Rail’s policy change came with some caveats:

  • Via Rail only intended to implement this policy on trains on trains on the Quebec-Windsor corridor (the corridor along which Murphy and Anderson
  • It would be implemented only on three specific models of train.

Not good enough. On Nov 1, the CTA “ordered the company to either add tie-downs for all trains across the country or present clear arguments as to why doing so would create undue hardship.”

At this time, Via is “analyzing” the situation.

Meet Me at Camera Three, Via Rail

I’ll make this really simple for you.

Marie Murphy and Marin Anderson want to be able to use your trains together with reasonable assurance that their mobility aids – which they rely on to get around; these are not a luxury item –  will come out undamaged at the end of the train ride. They want to do so because they’re married and enjoy traveling together; right now they’re taking separate trains to the same destination when they travel.

They decided to do something about this. They went through the proper channels, like we’re all told to. They made a complaint, they waited for a decision – they followed all the rules. And the CTA agreed that they were right, and put some rules in place for you. But you didn’t like the new rules, so you decided you just wouldn’t follow them, and made a “policy change” that you hoped made it look like you were doing something, but was only designed (badly, I might add) to make the complainants shut up. So the CTA had tell you, “Hey, you’re not following the rules we laid out, and unless you can come up with a pretty convincing reason why you shouldn’t have to, you’re gonna have to start.”

You know what all this makes you look like, Via Rail? A mopey toddler on the brink of throwing a tantrum because the grown-ups at the CTA aren’t letting you have your way.

I really thought you were smarter than that.

I thought you were more committed to Canadians – all Canadians, not just the non-disabled ones.

I’ve always liked you, Via, Rail, but this stinks. Grow up.

 

BC Town Will “Explore” Improving “Q to Q Ferry” Accessibility…Maybe

I already put a link up on the Girl With The Cane Facebook page to mssinenomine’s blog post about the City of New Westminster’s new “Q to Q Ferry” service, but I wanted to follow up with some comments of my own.

Content Warning: Ableism, Lack of Accessibility

Concept illustration showing a wheelchair in front of stairs, to represent something inaccessible Keyword: Q to Q Ferry
Lack of accessibility leaves people out.

Image Description: Concept illustration showing a wheelchair in front of stairs, to represent something inaccessible.

***

The City of New Westminster, British Columbia, is running a ferry service to connect two communities, Quayside and Queensborough, which are separated by the Fraser River. It’s a pilot project that runs until late September.

It isn’t accessible – there’s a step to get on the ferry.

Specifically, the website says:

“The ferry can carry up to four bikes per sailing on a first-come, first served basis. Although walkers, strollers and bicycles are permitted on the ferry, the use of wheelchairs and scooters is not supported.

As the ferry docks are located on the Fraser River, which is subject to a large tidal height difference, the access ramp can be steep at times and there is a step to get onto the ferry. Cyclists, passengers with strollers and those with mobility challenges should use their judgement about whether they are capable of using the ramp and ferry based on conditions at that time, should exercise caution and use the available handrails as necessary. If the demonstration service is extended into a longer trial or permanent service, the City would explore ways to improve the accessibility of the ferry terminals.”

This is why Canada need a federal Canadians with Disabilities Act, by the way. Because given that these attitudes about accessibility are out there, it’s going to take government legislation with some teeth in it to make accessibility a reality, and not all the provinces aren’t going to make those laws by themselves – currently only Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have disability legislation on the books. British Columbia is working on legislation.

An Act is in the works under the Trudeau government. But today I’m concerned with attitudes.

Lack of Accessibility is Bad Optics

I wrote this post on accessibility several years ago, about how if buildings aren’t accessible, if wheelchair ramps aren’t kept clear in the winter, if electric doors don’t work, if there’s even just “a little step” to get into a place, you send a powerful message to disabled community residents (and disabled visitors to your community, and their families, friends, caregivers, and anyone who’s ever been affected by poor access and who notices when it’s available/not available):

  • When you don’t maintain the features that make your business accessible (keep ramps clear, maintain electric doors, etc.), you say to disabled customers, “You’re disposable – we don’t care if you can’t get into our business and on that basis decide to go somewhere else.”
  • When your business isn’t accessible, period, it says to potential disabled customers, “We don’t care that you’ve got money to spend here. We’d rather not have your business.”

Both leave me thinking, “Why is a wheelchair user’s money not as valuable as a non-disabled person’s money?”

The Q to Q Ferry’s “We’d Rather Not Have Your Business” Plan

The Q to Q Ferry seems an especially egregious accessibility offender because its website makes it sound as if the City of Westminster figured that whether or not it could make the ferry accessible shouldn’t have a bearing on the ferry’s sustainability as a long-term venture. The “we’ll get to it if it becomes an issue” attitude toward ferry accessibility is significantly flawed in that accessibility is already an issue (not for the City, apparently, but certainly for people who use wheelchairs and scooters) and it’s reasonable to ask why the City wouldn’t acknowledge an accessibility issue at the ferry’s planning stage; there’s nothing about disability in the RFP (provided to mssinenomine by Alice Cavanaugh) :

  • Did the City forgot disabled people as it planned the “Q to Q Ferry” project?
  • Did the City consider disabled people, but didn’t figure that they’d want to use the “Q to Q Ferry” service, and figured accessibility planning was unnecessary?
  • Did the Vity consider disabled people, but didn’t figure that accessibility was a big enough issue in general that the “Q to Q Ferry” plan needed to consider it?
  • Did the City figure it could save money by not addressing accessibility right away and just hoped that no one would bring up the issue? (My money is on this one)

Whatever the reason, the City of New Westminster has shot itself in the foot, because they don’t have everything they need to evaluate whether their pilot project is sustainable. It won’t know at the end of September whether disabled people would use the ferry even if they could (including people with mobility difficulties who don’t use a chair, but might have trouble on the ramp, per the website warning); it will have no idea what the revenue stream from that demographic could be. It won’t know what it will cost to operate an accessible ferry, and therefore whether it has been charging enough over the summer.  When you prevent a group of people from accessing a service, you run this risk, as mssinenomine also observed:

“Whatever information gathered from this trial will be flawed because the trial itself is flawed. The City of New Westminster will have no idea how well large the need for this service is, because it has, by design, excluded an entire segment of the population who may or may not want to use it.

Are these the best times? Intervals? How do bicyclists, people pushing strollers and wheelchair and scooter users interact with other pedestrians? Should boarding be prioritized? How effective is our wayfinding?”

And it didn’t count on bad publicity.

Disabled People Know How to Spread the Word

Bad publicity not just from me and from mssinenomine and the reach of our blogs, but from the CBC.ca article that says that the ferry isn’t accessible to wheelchairs and scooters, and disabled people in the City of New Westminster itself, the disabled visitors to that city…and every family member, friend, caregiver, service provider, and everyone with a vested interest in accessibility, because we get the word around about these things. It’s a very big community, and it recommends businesses and services on the basis of how accessible they are and says, “Don’t bother” about the ones that aren’t.

I do let businesses know when I’ve encountered an accessibility issue and give them a chance to address it before I move on. But if it’s something that’s easily fixed and it doesn’t get fixed, or if I get a bad reaction to bringing it up (like “If the demonstration service is extended into a longer trial or permanent service, the City would explore ways to improve the accessibility of the ferry terminals,”) I won’t go back. And I’ll tell people exactly why.

Why should I use the services (or recommend to other disabled people that they do the same) of a business that’s just willing to “explore” becoming accessible given a set of circumstances? Either my money is good enough for them or it’s not.

It’d be nice to get the Mayor of New Westminster’s input on this, wouldn’t it? mssinenomine talked to him on Twitter – check it out. And thank you to mssinenomine and to the Disability Visibility Project for bringing the story of the Q to Q Ferry Service to my attention.

Save

Save

Save

Disabled Woman Beaten After Becoming Confused at TSA Checkpoint

June 30th should have been a really great day for Hannah Cohen. The 19-year-old woman was on her way home to Chattanooga, after having radiation treatments and surgery to remove a brain tumour at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. According to the Associated Press, the treatment she received at St. Jude left her “limited in her ability to talk, walk, stand, see and hear”, but she was medically cleared to fly home with her mother.

Content Note: Ableism, Violence, Assault by Authority Figures, Lack of Accessibility and Accommodations, Unjust Arrest, Airline Travel Issues

A white circular sign with a bold red border. The sign says, says "Stop: Security Check" in black block letters. Keyword: Hannah Cohen

Image Description: A white circular sign with a bold red border. The sign says, says “Stop: Security Check” in black block letters.

***

 

While going through a security checkpoint at the Memphis International Airport, Hannah Cohen set off an alarm. The TSA agents and airport police manning the checkpoint wanted to do additional screening, but Hannah became confused and anxious. WREG Memphis reported:

“‘…she was reluctant — she didn’t understand what they were about to do,’ said her mother, Shirley Cohen.

Cohen said she tried to tell agents with the Transportation Security Administration that her 19-year-old daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed and easily confused — but she said police kept her away from the security agents.

The confused and terrified young woman tried to run away, her mother said, ‘and agents violently took her to the ground…she’s trying to get away from them, but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor,’ Cohen said. ‘There was blood everywhere.'”

Hannah Cohen and her family are suing the TSA, the Memphis Airport, and the Airport Police, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her disabilities and that there was a failure to provide proper accommodations for her during the screening.

TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said about the incident:

“Passengers can call ahead of time to learn more about the screening process for their particular needs or medical situation.”

Well, it’s good to know that they can call this line, not that they must. This is an important point, and it’s also important to remember that the TSA itself said “can” instead of “must”. It’s in line with information on the TSA website about the screening process for disabled passengers. The website explicitly says in the section devoted to each kind of disability that a TSA disability card or medical documentation can be presented to the TSA agent at the checkpoint and the disabled traveller can expect accommodation – nowhere does it say that prior arrangements have to be made.

That’s one important point. I think that there are three more to be made here:

Expectation of Accommodation

Forget that the TSA website lists what accommodations the agency can provide for a variety of disabilities without the requirement that disabled travellers call in advance of the travel date and discuss their needs – even if it didn’t, in a country that has had federal legislation in place for over 25 years requiring businesses (including government-funded services) to make the required accommodations so that disabled people can access their services, one would expect that TSA agents would be trained in how to deliver services in a fully accessible manner. As Kim Sauder said over at her blog, “Crippled Scholar”, disabled people should not be required to announce themselves in advance so that proper accommodation can be made available – it should just be available.

Granted, some people do have very specialized needs that require more accommodation than usual, and in those circumstances sometimes it is advisable to call a business ahead of time. However, that isn’t the issue here. Presumably, since Hannah Cohen has been making this trip to Memphis for treatment for 17 years, she and her mother presented either the TSA card or necessary documentation to explain the need for what must was likely already a checkpoint experience that required some level of accommodation; even if they didn’t, Hannah would have presented as someone with at least an obvious physical disability. It’s reasonable to expect that TSA agents have training in how to work with someone whose noncompliance is coming along with signs of confusion or overwhelm (particularly if there are signs of other disability or a caregiver with the person is telling them why) – the TSA website says that accommodation can be expected for (by name) Alzheimer’s, dementia, aphasia, brain injury, autism, and intellectual disability. Accommodations include, according to the website, not separating the person from travelling companion and opportunity to inform the TSA agent about the best way to approach and conduct the screening.

Once Hannah Cohen started to become anxious about additional screening, these accommodations were denied, escalating the situation and resulting in her assault, arrest, and a night in prison.

Nowhere on the website does it say, “The TSA may deny accommodation at its discretion.” Imagine the shitstorm if it did. That would be breaking the law.

What happened to Hannah Cohen was illegal as well as disgusting. Train your agents to do what you’re telling the public that you’ve trained them to do, TSA.

Accommodation, Exception, and Understanding

The TSA website is also careful to say that while it accommodates the needs of disabled people, disabled people will still have to screened. Fair enough.

And Hannah Cohen did set off an alarm, so they wanted more information. Fair enough.

What’s *not* “fair enough”, and not even remotely productive from the TSA’s point of view, even if the agents haven’t been provided with the proper training, is their and airport police’s insistence on escalating a situation where a multiply disabled individual is obviously confused and agitated by the steps that need to happen next in the screening. Especially when there’s a caregiver there that the person trusts and that can assist with the process.

There’s no need for TSA agents to assume that every disabled person who goes through the checkpoint must be cognitively disabled because of the presence of the physical disabilities – long-time readers know that this is one of my pet peeves.

But in Hannah Cohen’s particular situation, there was also no need to assume, when her mother was there to verify, that her multiple disabilities didn’t mean that was perhaps also something that prevented her from understanding what was going on. It should be important to the TSA that passengers, disabled or non-disabled, understand the processes at checkpoints and why certain requests are made of them – not just to minimize anxiety for all passengers in transit (travel is stressful enough and *anyone* can lose their temper and become agitated when under enough stress), but because people have rights and responsibilities as airline travelers going through a checkpoint and need to understand them if the process is to move smoothly.

Even disabled people, TSA.

When I did rights training with intellectually disabled people, I used every tool that I could to help them to understand their rights and responsibilities. The TSA, trying to do their job by doing enhanced screening with Hannah Cohen, had a terrific tool at their disposal – not only could Hannah’s mother have acted as a calming influence in an unfamiliar situation, she could have been the person that helped to allay Hannah’s confusion about what was going on enough to get her to cooperate, give the agents what they wanted, and get the whole thing ended without incident.

But the airport police separated them, denying an accommodation that the TSA said it could provide and needlessly escalating an already stressful encounter. Congrats on a job well done, officers – look where it got you.

This Shouldn’t Have Happened to Hannah Cohen…or to Anyone

The media is outraged that this happened to a disabled teenager.

It should be outraged that this happened to anyone.

This “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is sickening. Even if Hannah Cohen had been a non-disabled person, her only “crime” was that she refused to comply with a TSA request. They didn’t have proof that she was dangerous, or even had intention of doing anything illegal, but for that she was tackled and had her head bashed against the floor until her face was battered and bloodied. She was then arrested, dragged out of the airport, booked, and spent a night in prison.

The fact that Hannah Cohen is disabled adds another level of complexity to the story, but the ultimate message would be the same if she was non-disabled: This is not the way that *people* should be treated. Not disabled people. Not non-disabled people. Not anyone.

Shame on the TSA agents, the airport police, the Memphis police, and everyone involved in the events that put Hannah Cohen in jail on the night that she should have been celebrating the end of her cancer treatment.

Hannah Cohen is suing for $100 000. If I was her, I’d be asking for a hell of a lot more.

 

Save

Save

Disabled Parking Permits and the Dangers of Assumptions

This post is going to be preaching to the choir for most of the people who read this blog. Maybe you can pass the link along to someone who insists on making assumptions about people who park a vehicle with the disabled parking permit visible in the window, in a disabled parking spot.

Content Note: Ableism, assumptions, disability policing

Disabled parking tag with note that says "FAKER" attached to it. Keyword: disabled parking permit

Image Description: Disabled parking tag with note that says “FAKER” attached to it.

***

My thoughts on this are spurred by a post that I shared on the Facebook page, by a woman with who parked in a disabled parking spot, using the disabled parking permit that had been issued to her, and came back to find a note attached to it that said “FAKER”.

A Brief Lesson About Disabled Parking Permits

In case anyone’s unclear on this, let’s go through when you can’t park in a disabled parking spot (Ontario Regulations):

When you don’t have a disabled parking permit displayed, and you’re going to be in the store for “just 5 minutes”

When you do have a permit displayed, and you’re going to be in the store for any amount of time and the person to whom the disabled parking permit was issued is not in the car.

When you do have a disabled parking permit, you’re going to be in the store for any amount of time, the person to whom the disabled parking permit was issued *is* in the car, but won’t be going into the store. If the disabled person is just going to sit in the car in the disabled parking spot, they’re taking up the spot and pushing out a disabled person that might actually intend to go into the store. It’s a misuse of the permit.

Here’s when you can park in a disabled parking spot: You are the disabled person to whom the permit was issued, or the person to whom the permit was issued is in the vehicle, and will be going into the store.

The Disabled Parking Permit and Assumptions

Abuse of the disabled parking permit is definitely annoying. When I see a car parked in a disabled parking spot, I check to see if there’s a permit displayed on the dashboard. But what’s even more annoying is when people:

  1. Make the assumption that a person who doesn’t “look disabled” enough to have a disabled parking permit assume that a person isn’t entitled to it and must be scamming the system.
  2. Take it upon themselves to police people who they assume aren’t “disabled” enough to have a disabled parking permit.

I don’t think that the average person understands that for many, many disabled people, a day where they walk around town doing errands or having lunch and an afternoon out with friends means three or four days of recovery where they have to use a wheelchair. Even after a decade of being able to walk without a cane inside, and even outside for short distances depending on the season and weather, a day of walking without my cane at the Toronto Zoo left me so exhausted that I was stunned.

It’d be easy to assume, catching a disabled person after a few days of rest and recovery, that perhaps the disabled permit on the dashboard isn’t necessary. Someone might assume that the person gets around that easily all the time, and become suspicious: How is that person disabled? Did he or she scam the system? The trouble with that assumption is that it doesn’t take into account that perhaps that person is so exhausted and in so much pain that the parking permit is vital.

The other trouble with that assumption is the second one that often flows from it, that having identified disability parking permit “fraud”, it’s okay for citizens to deal with it themselves.

Disabled Parking Permit “Fraud”: Citizens Policing Citizens

I don’t understand is how it’s anyone’s business, outside of the office that issues the disabled parking permit, whether a person is “deserving” of a permit or not. The assumption that I’d rather make is that the permit is on the car, someone thought they should have it, whether it looks to me at the moment like they should or not –

And it’s not my job to police people!

It’s not Joe Public’s job, either. It’s none of his business. And I’d really like to know where people got the idea that it was. The idea that disabled people should be required to prove to just anyone on the street on  demand whether they’re “disabled enough” to receive a service is particularly insidious ableism, and a real measuring stick of how far we *haven’t* come. When your typical person on the street still feels entitled to that sort of power over disabled people, that’s a real concern.

I remember writing something like that before, so I went back over my posts for the past year. I found what I was looking for in a post about Kanye West. He refused to continue singing unless everyone was standing up at a concert, and when some people in wheelchairs didn’t stand up (because they couldn’t) he sent staff to make sure that they couldn’t. I wrote:

“There are very few people to whom I have to prove that I’m disabled. They are service providers that need proof of disability so that I can start/keep receiving some sort of service. I’m not crazy about this, but it’s part of life, it’s fairly infrequent, and I deal with it. I do not have to prove that I’m disabled to a person on the street, another disabled person, or anyone else that I don’t want to.”

You don’t have to either. Spread the word.

Juliette Beegle, 15, and Her Family Asked to Leave Airplane After Emergency Landing. Was It Because She’s Autistic?

Content Note: Airline travel issues, ableism

Cartoon airplane flies through the sky. Keyword: Hannah Cohen

Image Description: Cartoon airplane flies through the sky.

***

I’m sure that some of you have heard about Juliette Beegle, the 15-year-old kicked off an United Airlines airplane with her family, ostensibly because she’s autistic.

(Oregon Live also covered Juliette Beegle’s story, and the comments are very interesting.)

I say “ostensibly” because the message board discussion that I’ve been watching on this story has had people point out that the call to have the plane make an emergency landing and have Juliette Beegle and her family disembark may have been made for a neurotypical person too.

Let’s take a look at Juliette Beegle’s story.

Juliette Beegle’s Story – The Basics

Juliette Beegle does not communicate using words, and her frustration levels can get high, especially if she hasn’t eaten. On the day in question, she hadn’t eaten before getting on the airplane, and didn’t want to eat any of the snacks that her mother, Donna Beegle, had brought. Sensing that acting-out behaviour (I don’t like the term “meltdown”, but have no problem with other people that do) was imminent, and knowing that something hot to eat would calm Juliette, Donna requested a hot meal from the flight staff. She was told that only first class passengers received hot meals, but that they could offer her a cold sandwich.

Donna and her husband explained what kind of acting-out behaviour Juliette might go into if she couldn’t get a hot meal, including that she might scratch lash out and scratch. The crew eventually brought a hot meal from first class, which did calm Juliette. But not long after, the plane landed in Salt Lake City, and Juliette Beegle and her family were escorted off the plane. They were rebooked on another carrier (presumably at no cost to them) to continue their trip. Read more about Juliette Beegle’s story.

Juliette Beegle – The Discussion

The discussion that I’ve been watching about this has been very interesting. There’s been  acknowledgement among most of the participants that airlines in general seem to know very little about good (or even adequate) customer service for disabled people. As people who work outside the industry (most of us, anyway) we don’t know what kind of disability training airline employees get, but there are enough examples of it being seemingly absent in their dealings with disabled people that definitely make ableism in the airline industry a trend. Airports are becoming a bit more responsive to challenges involved with autism and flying by offering “dry runs” through airports for families, to help autistic family members to see what’s involved with flying and to help the rest of the family fine-tune the plan for handling the trip through the airport, but there’s still a long way to go.

There was general agreement that the captain and airline staff overreacted.

However, even from some participants that said this, there was another perspective.

For safety reasons, because of the age we live in, airlines are very cautious about everything right now. A woman who did have some experience with the airline industry pointed out that even a small request that deviates from normal routines, like serving a hot meal to a passenger that wouldn’t otherwise get one (especially outside the meal service period), keeps the staff from performing other functions that they need to be doing at that point in the flight and sets a dangerous precedent of “You made an exception for that person – why can’t you fill my special request?”

As well, the family basically threatened that Juliette Beegle may become violent if she didn’t get what she want. Autistic or neurotypical, that may have been a risk that the pilot felt that he/she couldn’t take.  After all, Donna said that Juliette would be okay if she got a hot meal, but what if that wasn’t the case? What if her frustration continued to escalate and she actually did scratch another passenger?

And, as another person asked, was it reasonable of the parents to expect that the airline could produce hot food for Juliette Beegle on a dime? Knowing that hot food was what could calm Juliette Beegle before she got to the point that she scratched, was it not up to them to either make arrangements with the airline to have use of the microwave and bring something on board that could be heated up, or to carry food on board in a container that would keep it hot the length of the flight?

Those sorts of questions need to be asked when any sort of person with special needs is traveling by air, not just an autistic person. I think it’s reasonable to expect disabled passengers to ask themselves, “What if there’s a chance that, due to my disability, I need something in the air that the staff may not be able to provide?” and to either do what they what they can to bring it on board (admittedly more and more difficult due to carry-on restrictions) or to call the airline prior to the travel date, explain the requirement, and see what can be worked out.

No one can plan for everything, of course. But I don’t think that in the moment when everyone’s guard is up is the moment to start explaining the finer points of autism and making what can come across as threats, as a passenger on Juliette Beegle’s flight observed:

“Really I saw it as a threat to the airline and the flight attendants to say, ‘Well if we don’t get this, this is what’s going to happen,”

It’s an interesting perspective.

Juliet Beegle – To What Extent Do Airlines Have the Duty to Accommodate?

Should airline disability training include at least enough on autism so that if flight crew are alerted that acting-out behaviour is imminent and there’s something simple that they can do, like give a hot meal to a person that normally wouldn’t get one, that they should do it?

I think so. That’s pretty basic stuff. If the pilot and crew had received some autism training, they might have tried the first alternative suggested by the people who knew Juliette Beegle best sooner, seen her calm for a longer period and been satisfied that she was going to stay calm, alleviating the need to land the plane.

However, airlines need to take the potential for physical violence from anyone seriously, especially in cases where they can’t help so easily.  I think that the emergency landing and deplaning the family was probably an overreaction in this case, because Juliette Beegle’s parents were there to talk about how she normally doesn’t have issues with flying, how this trip had been different because she hadn’t eaten beforehand, and could vouch for how a hot meal generally calmed her – it wasn’t as if this was a passenger travelling alone who said, “I’m anxious, I need a hot meal or I might scratch people” with no other information to inform their decision.

It comes down to that idea of balancing everyone’s rights, which isn’t always difficult to do – but sometimes it really is.

Juliette Beegle – Do Disabled People Have a Responsibility?

I thought about this a lot.

I think that disabled people (or caregivers) need to be mindful that we have to know what it is that we need to function optimally and have a personal plan, to the greatest extent possible, for the times for the times, right or wrong, that we may not be able to get what we need.  I think that this is part of disability empowerment.

We also need to know how to identify when the way that people, trained or untrained, treat us crosses the line into unacceptable. As we saw from this case,  sometimes you can make an argument that a bad outcome is due to an institution’s decisions, sometimes you can argue that it was due to the disabled person’s decisions (or their caregiver’s), sometimes you can argue that it’s both…but sometimes it’s very clearly the institution’s (see this post by William Peace for examples involving airlines).

The discussion I was following on Juliette Beegle’s story got a lot into blame, but I don’t think I like looking at it like that. I think that there are lessons to be learned from it for the airlines and for travellers.

What do you think?