Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Inclusion in the airport: A bad example

About a month ago, I discussed a story about more than reasonable accommodation in Heathrow airport for a young man with autism. The article reads, in part:

The 21-year-old has severe autism and obsessive compulsive disorder, but has to negotiate the hectic bustle of Heathrow airport to attend Boston Higashi High School in the US.
To cater for him, staff have attempted to re-create the same conditions every time he flies.
Four times a year for five years, Aaran has met the same airport staff, at the same check-in desk, visiting the same shops, leaving from the same gate on to a plane on which the same seats are reserved.
Let's look at a comparable story from the U.S.

The trouble began when Bergeron and Apollo, traveling with friends, were going through security at the Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle. They were on their way to California to take part in a photo shoot for a campaign called “Everybody Plays,” which celebrates children of differing physical abilities. That was a great irony, Bergeron said, as “we were only flying because of his medical issues.” 
So they were on their way to an event on inclusion.

Apollo was born with a condition known as a double aortic arch, which has led to trachea and esophagus problems that make it difficult for him to swallow food. To help him take in enough calories to grow, he’s been outfitted with a permanent gastronomy tube to his stomach, through which his parents feed him high-calorie formula three times a day. It was the cans of formula that sent TSA agents in Seattle into high-alert mode.

“I walked right up to the first agent and told her, ‘My son is tube-fed and this cooler has formula and medical supplies in it,’” Bergeron said, explaining that she had hoped that being direct would be a helpful approach and that it would have prompted a TSA agent to do a thorough search and swab of the items before sending them through to their gate.

Instead, she said, the agent directed her to continue through the line and to put the bag through the X-ray machine, and “didn’t even give a heads-up to the next agent.” That’s when the agent at the machine “freaked out,” Bergeron said, because of the liquid—which was then put through a scan that indicated “explosive residue” had been detected. “Clearly, the things that test for explosive residue don’t work very well,” she said, adding that, at that point, “they surrounded me and began treating me like a suspect—of what I don’t know.”

They were escorted to a restroom then, as Apollo had to go, but Bergeron was not allowed to take him alone. Then the two were ushered to a private room where agents gave Bergeron a thorough pat-down and where a nervous Apollo began to cry and beg his mom to hold him. Bergeron was told she couldn’t touch her son because she could “contaminate” him. “It was horribly traumatic for him,” she said.
I can imagine Nico's panic under this situation. Of course they missed their flight. Of course this is not an isolated incident. Of course the TSA says - if you don't want to be harassed, call ahead. And yes, you should call ahead, but you shouldn't have to.