I am a 42 year old woman who happens to be Deafblind. I also have
neuropathy, which makes walking difficult. I don't like being
told that I can't do something. I know my body better than
anyone. I will admit my limits and ask for help when needed. I
don't believe the "I can do anything I want" mind-set. But flying
alone on a direct flight is something I am able to do.
For the pat eight years, I've flown in and out of Akron-Canton,
Cleveland Hopkins, JFK, BWI and Philly international airports.
These days it's the Akron to philly trip, maybe four times per
year. That's because someone very dear to my heart lives an hour
from Philadelphia. Philly International airport is the most
chaotic place I've ever been to. It's endless, confusing and
overall, a pain in the butt.
I can fly on my own, even into a big airport. Here's how I do it:
My father drives me to Akron-Canton. We have the ticket printed.
The airline has already been notified of my disability and
special needs. My Dad does the talking, shows them my ID. I'm
usually back-ended into a wheelchair and I sit down.
I need a pat-down to get through security. No big deal... been
there, done that. "I've been through this dozens of times, so
just go ahead and do what you need.," I tell them. They raise my
arms, have me lean forward, push me back, move my legs and wipe
my hands. I don't need to be able to hear TSA to know what to do.
They communicate perfectly by doing it. Even the breast pat isn't
After I gather up my jacket, bag, braille machine, phone and
forearm crutch, my father takes me to the gate. Eventually,
airline staff wheel me to the plane. Getting on is the tricky
part. Sometimes I have to go up a ramp or stirs, and sometimes go
down. There's an awkward moment when I first step onto the
plane. Usually, I get to sit in first class. They indicate for me
to duck my head. I used to hit my head as a sighted traveler. The
message is clear. Finally, I'm pushed into a chair, and someone
buckles my seat belt. That part isn't necessary, but I keep my
mouth shut and let them do it.
For the next 90 minutes, i'm basically ignored. That works for
me. I know when we are taking off because the plane goes fast and
up. I know when we are landing because there's a bumping
sensation when the landing gear is drop. The plane goes down, and
we hit the ground. I know when to get off because the airline
staff come for me, indicate I need to duck my head, and we do
everything in reverse.
Once inside I repeat my mantra, "I'm meeting Frank at the baggage
calm, frank at baggage." Or if i'm returning to Akron, I say,
"Pete at baggage, Pete at baggage."
Mostly, it goes well enough. They haven't lost me yet. It's a
frustrating adventure, but that's true for every other passenger
on the plane.
The worst part is the rough man-handling. I am not a garbage
truck, bus or any other type of vehicle. I do not have flashing
lights or beep when going backwards. Do not back-end me into a
wheelchair or any other kind of chair. They do it every single
time. The fact that I can't feel the chair behind me makes the
situation worse. I will not sit until I feel the chair with my
hand. They won't let go of my hand and push me down.
I have been yanked and lifted out of chairs by two people. They
don't give me time to slide my arm into the forearm crutch. They
won't let me hold onto a rail while getting on and off the plane.
It's mind boggling how people think a moving human body is more
supportive than a metal rail.
Yank, push, pull shove, lift... They hold me tight enough to
bruise. They don't give me room to move. They ignore my protests
and instructions on what to do, how to guide me. I'm a random
piece of baggage they must load onto the plane. I grin and bear
it, concentrating on how wonderful it will be to reach my
destination and get away from these crazy people.
I travel on American Airline, which is now known as American
Eagle. The worst incident, until now, was when I returned to
Akron on September 6th and was trying to get off the plane. For
some reason, they now "unload" me first if i'm in first class.
There is a sense of urgency. We need to hurry so as not to hold
up the rest of the passengers. A male flight attendant was
pushing me from behind. God, I hate that. A female had my hands
and was trying to guide me onto the steps. The crutch dangled
uselessly from my arm, so I couldn't "see" where to put my feet.
The man changed his grip, holding my tightly just under my
breasts. The female pulled my arms forward. The man allowed no
slack, so I couldn't move. I understood I needed to take a step
down, but this guy would not permit it. He lifted me down one
step at a time with his arms around my body and under my breasts.
I'm pretty sure that hold qualified as sexual harassment. I could
still feel his touch in the car as my dad drove me home.
That was the worst until Sunday, October 2nd, 2016 at philly
International. We were doing fine until check-in. Frank can
fingerspell so, unlike with my father, he can communicate with
me. But he mostly does the talking. At last, he told me, "The
bitch at check-in doesn't think you can fly alone. But not to
worry." He's ex-military and doesn't take crap from anyone.
Apparently this one woman decided I would hurt myself and others
if allowed to fly by myself. What would I do if there was an
emergency> She contacted her supervisor, who agreed with her.
They called the gate and told airline staff not to allow me to
The bitch and supervisor made another attempt to kick me off the
flight. The workers at the gate were really nice and outraged by
what was going on. They called their supervisor, and I was
allowed onto the plane. I later learned the woman from check-in
was still making trouble, but nothing came of it.
When I posted about this on Facebook, most of my friends were
shocked. The Deafblind community was not. This wasn't new.
Deafblind travelers have been kicked off flights repeatedly over
the past ten years. There is nothing in ADA about airline travel,
but this violates airline carrier rules. That doesn't stop it
from happening. Air Canada would not allow a world-wide traveler
onto a plane because she is DeafBlind. A Deafblind woman won a
lawsuit against Continental when they kicked her off a flight.
More recently, a Deafblind priest, also a world-wide traveler,
was not allowed to board his plane.
What would I do in an emergency? The same thing I do on the
ground, let airline staff lead the way, or push or yank. I follow
non-verbal directions. They don't need to tell me the nature of
the emergency for me to understand something is wrong, and I need
to go with them. Think about it. Many non-disabled people are
paralyzed by fear and must be pulled out of their seats and
forced to move.
People who are Deafblind are treated like mindless idiots. One
Facebook friend said I should get a t-shirt that says, "I have a
masters degree, do you?"
But the reality is that I was lucky. I had someone to advocate
for me. In the end, I was on the flight and made it home. Now my
father is in communication with American Eagle. He's ex-IRS and
doesn't take crap from anyone.
contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.