As told to Barbara Shalit
From the Editor: Some of us find travel routine. Others who are blind find it a challenge. But most of us have failed to wonder how it is that one can travel independently and attend meetings if he or she is deaf and blind. Alice Eaddy and Barbara Shalit give us some help in understanding the obstacles and the laws that attempt to mitigate them. Here is what they say:
What does it take to immerse the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) into my world of travel fear and the DeafBlind communication experience? When is it appropriate to separate a consumer from communication access devices in the name of a security check?
Come along with me, and discover my world as a person who has limited sight and hearing. This story started when I lodged a complaint of poor handling of a DeafBlind consumer—me—on a July 16 flight after the 2017 NFB National Convention. Not only did I miss my flight home, but my ride, as well. I ended up routed home by way of St. Louis to Philadelphia. Coincidentally, at the National Convention the DeafBlind Division had hosted a panel on travel, and one of the speakers was from TSA. I notified this individual about my difficulties and was referred to Susan Buckland, senior policy advisor, TSA Disability Branch. Susan and I discussed my experience, and she then invited me to an upcoming disability and medical conference—the TSA Annual Coalition Conference—in Arlington, Virginia. I was thrilled to attend but knew that my journey would take research and preparedness.
I began by checking out the hotel and its location and adding that information to my White Pages app. Using another app, Trip Planner, I input key information for route and best transportation modes. I packed my bag as I do when I’m flying, including a prepared “canned” disclaimer in my Speak2See app that says, “Please note that I’ve photographed the position of all items within. If an item is removed and examined, please return it to its original location.” (It’s a good idea to call seventy-two hours prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the security checkpoint.) I booked Amtrak, registered with the hotel, and made sure I’d remember to carry my email and conference invitations to the event.
And then I hit a roadblock: Access Link’s inability to accommodate a 4:30 a.m. pickup from my home to the Philadelphia train station. So, instead, the night before I took a New Jersey Transit bus at 8:15 p.m. to Philadelphia, then another bus at 11:09 p.m. to the train station, stayed overnight there, and then took the 6:30 a.m. train to Washington, DC. My biggest challenge after arriving in DC was my first-ever trip on the Metro from DC into Virginia.
All went well, and I arrived at the conference safe and sound. My initial TSA contact, Susan, was there, searched me out, and we ate lunch together. I used my Speak2See app to order.
During the conference I demonstrated several apps, including the free ShowMe for Emergencies and ShowMe FAC, which are picture-based communication tools. The conference folks really liked them and wanted to take components for use with other travelers with disabilities. TSA has Braille copies of the questions TSA typically asks during a pat down; these can be requested by travelers in advance. Also available in advance is the TSA Cares Helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, and other special circumstances with additional assistance during the security screening process.
Two passenger-support specialists from local airports thanked me for showing them my communication cards. The cards were a revelation for them, which may indicate that DeafBlind travelers aren’t using them. They welcomed ideas to ease communication and reminded me that they provide on-the-spot assistance.
Airports and train stations inherently have things that cause interference to my equipment. I explained that even simple x-rays at the dentist office can fry my hearing aid from the inside out. Also, I let them know that it’s invasive to me when I’m asked to send my phone through the scanning machine because it truly is my only means to communication. Most agents do not seem to understand that. They hand-swipe my ComPilot, Roger Pen, and Mini Mic, items that are irreplaceable and provide a coordinated listening environment for me. I easily feel robbed when I am without them.
During the conference I also talked about having used the Sprint IP Relay app to coordinate my travels, since it’s hard for me to hear on my phone anymore. Using the IP Relay, I can be called via my relay app phone number, and messages arrive in my email inbox.
I learned that the TSA experience is often specific to the airport you’re visiting. I also perused the booths at the conference, which included customer relations service (DOJ), customer service branch (TSA), Diversity and Inclusion Division (TSA), Transportation Security Redress Branch (TSA), and more.
I had so much fun! I didn’t talk a lot but made what I said count. They provided CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) services and three rotating interpreters for me, and I’m now a coalition member, too.
So there you have it, a chance with some drama creating an opportunity to open dialogues about the travel and etiquette needs of the DeafBlind consumer when dealing with TSA representatives.
If you need to file a complaint, contact: Susan Buckland, senior policy advisor, Disability Branch/Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsmen and Traveler Engagement, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, phone 202-684-5002 (text only) or email [email protected].