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Flying, airport security screening, and people with mobility disabilities.

We're all aware of the national brouhaha and commotion that's erupted over the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) being used at airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to pinpoint kooks and nuts who'd otherwise sneak bombs aboard planes in their underwear or shoes.

Some air travelers oppose the use of the AIT devices. They complain that the images that the devices produce are "too revealing," violate their rights of privacy, or damage their "sensibilities." Individuals who spurn AIT screenings can opt instead for full-body pat downs performed by Administration personnel in secluded areas.

However, many travelers reject pat downs as well. They claim they're too intrusive, and at least one group has filed suit claiming the pat downs are unreasonable searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment, and so are unconstitutional.

Where does this AIT/pat down controversy leave hapless air travelers with mobility disabilities? What choices, if any, do they have as they approach airport security checkpoints? Can they too opt out of AIT screenings in favor of pat downs? What if a person uses a wheelchair and so cannot, at least for the time being, be subjected to AIT?

Kimberly Walton, Special TSA Counselor, provides the following description of the manner in which passengers with mobility disabilities will be screened at TSA checkpoints in a blog on, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy:

TSA Screening for Passengers with Mobility Disabilities

Under the TSA's rules, you are eligible for AIT screening if you can stand for 5 to 7 seconds with your hands raised above the level of your shoulders, but only if you can do so without a mobility aid (cane, crutches, walker, etc.). If you're eligible for AIT screening but opt for a pat down instead, you'll be escorted to a screening area where the pat down will be performed (if you request a private screening area one will be provided).

If you cannot stand with hands raised and without help for the prescribed time, you're not eligible for AIT (nor are people accompanied by service animals or individuals with oxygen tanks).

If you can walk with a mobility device, or if you use a service animal, you can go through Walk Through Metal Detector (WTMD) screening, or request a pat-down if you're unable or prefer not to use WTMD.

If you use a wheelchair (or scooter) and you cannot walk or stand, you'll receive a pat down while you sit in your wheelchair. The wheelchair or scooter will be inspected thoroughly. Any removable containers (pouches, fanny packs, etc.) will be X-rayed.

Pat downs will be performed by a TSA officers of the same gender as the person being screened, and will take place in public or in private (if the person so requests). There will always be a witness present for private screenings, and you can also have a companion, family member or personal assistant stay with you during the screening (whether it takes place in a public or private area). Anyone who remains with you throughout the screening may themselves be screened after they assist you.

Steps to Expedite Screening

You can coordinate your screening in advance by contacting a TSA Customer Support Manager. This way, says TSA, you can have "a chance to speak with an expert and explain the best possible way to be screened prior to arriving at the airport." You can use the Talk To TSA program on to contact the Customer Support Manager at the airport.

You can also expedite the screening process by choosing to disclose your disability to a TSA officer. A notification template is available for organizations and their constituents to print out and bring with them to the airport to discreetly provide information about a person's medical condition or disability to TSA officers.

This column has a simple purpose but a difficult goal--discuss issues that affect the lives, well-being, and state of mind of those who must live and cope with a disability and do so in a humorous way. Not an easy thing to do, since there is certainly nothing funny or humorous about having a disability or in the obstacles that those with chronic disabilities encounter daily (I've had multiple sclerosis [MS] for 40 years and use a wheelchair). However, I've personally found that humor has, to a great extent, helped me cope with my disability, and I hope this column helps others with disabilities to do so as well.
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Author:Levinson, Jerry
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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