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Thursday, January 12, 2017

american airlines tries to stop deafblind passenger from boarding... again

In October, I experienced insult and frustration when American
Airlines (AA) attempted to stop me from board a flight from
Philly to Akron. I was allowed on the flight and made it safely
home. My father followed up with a complaint and many phone
calls. Eventually, the airline issued an apology and a voucher
for a free flight.

On December 23rd, 2016, I was one of many people at Akron-Canton
airport boarding a flight to Philadelphia. My mind was full of
holiday spirit and the excitement of spending Christmas with
loved ones.

All was well as far as I could tell. Everyone treated me with
respect, as opposed to the usual roughness as airline staff
pulled and pushed in every direction.

The plane was on time... a miracle! Someone started to wheel me
away, and stopped. I didn't think much of it. Finally I was taken
outside and helped to board the plane. We landed at Philly with
no trouble. My friends and I went to IHOP, where I had sinfully
delicious Raspberry and white chocolate chip pancakes. Life was
good.

It's never that easy for me. I should have known something wasn't
right. I found out the next day when I checked email. My father
wrote:

went to board your boarding pass was scanned and the screen said
that your ticket was not paid for. That is impossible since your
boarding pass was issued. I asked for the supervisor and 3 people
hit the phones. The customer relations person that I spoke to
previously told me call Disability Assistance before your next
flight. I did that and the guy told me that it was up to the
ground staff at the airport. Apparently he decided to tag you as
unable to fly alone because they have no way to communicate with
you. He did not tell me that he was going to tag you. As it
stands now you will be prevented from boarding in Philly.

what the Hell? and Merry Christmas! My father was on the phone
that night and the next... and every day after Christmas. Friends
from Pennsylvania were also making calls. Facebook was a-buzz
with messages and ideas. We exchanged emails like holiday
greetings but not so nice. Nobody could ignore what happened or
what was threatened to come. This situation truly put a black
cloud over Christmas.

Let me explain something. I used to make the Akron to Philly trip
On U. S. Airways. They never stopped me from flying. But there
was a merge or a take over. Now I'm flying American Eagle, which
is a contract company owned by American Airlines. The trouble
began with my first flight after the change.

I know what you are thinking. American Airlines suck! I should
fly Southwest or Delta. I can't. The is only one non-stop flight
from Akron to Philly -- American Airlines.

The big day, December 29th drew near. Instead of admiring my new
gifts, I was preparing a mission... trying to get home. But now
my supporters and I were armed with knowledge. For example, don't
company about ADA violations. ADA doesn't cover airline travel.
The law that does is called the Air Carrier Accessibility Act
(ACAA). If there is a problem, don't ask for a supervisor. You
want a Conflict Resolution Officer (CRO). Using proper terms
shows the airline that you know the law.

Since communication is the main concern, I made a communication
card to be given to the flight crew and everyone else along the
way. I made sure to keep it simple. An elaborate plan for
communication would likely cause more confusion than help. I
chose to not include Print on Palm. While this is supposed to be
an easy method that can be used by anyone for communication with
people who are Deafblind, I find it fails half the time. Just
like with regular writing, people "write" in different styles
when they use their finger like a pen to print letters on your
palm.

Instead, I offered directions on what to do in an emergency and
added my cell phone number. I read text messages using an IPhone
and braille Sense U2. Maybe they can't text me while in flight,
but it's a great solution for on the ground.

My entire communication card can be viewed at the end of this
blog. I will also be posting an article and guidelines for flying
alone as a person who is Deafblind.

Back to the story... We arrived extra early at the airport. An
interpreter friend volunteered to join us so I would be
completely informed of what was going on. I am so thankful for
her kindness. Having the ability to answer questions myself and
make comments or suggestions is crucial in proving that I can fly
by myself. When I merely sit quietly in a wheelchair and everyone
talks around me, there is no demonstration of my ability to
communicate. No wonder the airline is concerned.

The woman at check-in was oh, so very nice. She told us about all
her experience with people who have disabilities. But we hit a
snag. In the past, both Frank and Scott were allowed to come with
me to the gate. This time I could only take one person with me,
and it had to be the interpreter. We didn't agree. The woman said
rules have changed. We didn't back down. A supervisor was called
and soon we were all allowed at the gate.

As soon as we reached the gate, another manager was called. My
heart filled with dread. But wait... the supervisor was there to
personally escort me onto the plane to make everything proceed
smoothly. Cool! This royalty treatment might have bee the result
of some connections with people on Facebook.

I was sitting in the front row on the plane when my IPhone
vibrated in my coat pocket. It was the interpreter. American
Airlines didn't have a braille copy of the in-flight safety
guidelines, so they had her text them to me. I read them but did
not reply. They brought the interpreter onto the plane to confirm
that I read the guidelines. We were communicating in every sense
of the word.

The plane took off, the flight was fine, and I made it home to my
two favorite cats. I still have the voucher for a free flight. I
have no intention to stop flying to Philly. We can only see what
the future has to offer. Bring it on, I'm ready to fight for my
rights.

Please share this blog and the two that will soon follow. We need
to educate the world. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Angie C. Orlando
January 2017

This is my communication card.


To: American Airlines

RE: Air Carrier Accessibility Act (ACAA)

1. My name is Angela C. Orlando, and I am deafblind.

2. You can text me at 330-221-6499.

3. I need a braille copy of in-flight safety guidelines.

4. I do not want a snack or drink.

5. In an emergency, draw an X on my shoulder and tug my hand. I
will know to follow you and save questions for later.

6. If there is an emergency, and you want me to stay in my seat,
draw an X on my shoulder and make the hand gesture for "stay."

7. When it is time for me to leave the plane, make sure I have my
forearm crutch and bag, then tug my hand. I will not stand up or
leave my seat unless directed to do so in the above mentioned
manner.

8. I will meet someone at baggage claim.
At PHL, I am meeting frank Stoffel.
At CAK, I am meeting Pete Orlando.

9. If there are any problem, I request to speak with a Conflict
Resolution Officer (CRO).

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