So, a disabled woman set off the metal detector at an airport. This triggered additional screening. Her mother attempted to inform the TSA agents of her daughter’s needs. They ignored her. The woman became confused and tried to get away from the TSA agents. They tackled her to the ground and left her bloody. She was arrested (though the charges were later dropped.
Not surprisingly, the TSA and police are being sued over this. What I would like to talk about is the TSA’s defense of their actions. They are crying ignorance. Apparently, the woman’s mother telling them that her daughter is disabled and might become confused before the situation escalated was insufficient. They suggest that the woman and disabled people generally should call ahead to inform airport staff that they are disabled.
Not only is that not likely to have changed this situation. It is also an absurd burden to place on disabled people. We might as well hire town criers to precede us every where we go, ringing bells and yelling “Hear ye, hear ye, Cripple approaching”.
Now, I know that many disabled people do have to call airports ahead because they require assistance either navigating the airport or boarding the plane. I also know that for every person that I know who requires that assistance that I have heard at least one horror story. Stories that range from having there assistance requests lost (more or less reinforcing the idea that calling ahead was all that was required to avoid the violence exacted on that woman) to being left alone in the “accessibility lounge” for hours while being actively separated from travel companions.
It’s bad enough that systems aren’t in place to accommodate disabled people without advance warning (thus giving people an excuse to fall back on when a space isn’t accessible) but to suggest that we should have to announce our presence in situations we weren’t even expecting to require accommodations is absurd.
Violence against disabled people by law enforcement agencies is hardly rare. It is not just in airports. Should we also call the police non-emergency line every time that we leave our homes and provide them with a detailed itinerary and list of our diagnoses and symptoms? Just in case we have an unexpected interaction with police while we’re out?
I mean law enforcement (the TSA included) is totally equipped to keep track of every disabled person (and their specific needs) they might interact with in a given day; as long as we call ahead right? It’s not like there are very many disabled people or that our needs are particularly varied or complex.
The answer is clearly not to give people in positions of authority (particularly where they have training in responding with force) to be aware of the needs of disabled people. Particularly, in scenarios where there is someone trying to inform them of that fact.
It is not our responsibility to anticipate and stop violence against ourselves. We couldn’t if we tried. It’s a completely unrealistic expectation.
It is far more reasonable to expect people in power to be educated about disability and to listen when they are told that they are dealing with a disabled person and act appropriately.
It should go without saying that the appropriate action in this case was not violence.