ridicuLIST: Deaf People Can't Walk (In Airports)

Posted by: Staff Writer on April 18, 2014

There’s a long-running joke that Delta Air Lines, which operates +5,000 flights daily, is an acronym for “Doesn’t Even Leave the Airport”. But for those in the Deaf Community, it may as well be “Deaf Erroneously Lose Their Ambulation”.

That’s because despite the universally (or so we thought) known fact that being deaf is specific to the ears, many airlines make the faux pas of handing us a wheelchair for pre-boarding. Many a tale has been told, about telling the front desk we are deaf, only to find a nice little lady waiting at the gate holding up an iPad with our name on it, waiting to push us around in a wheelchair.

Um … say what? And we don’t mean that in a “we didn’t hear you” kind of way. More like a “you’re off your rocker” kind of way. Because unlike most of the folks at nursing homes, we don’t sit in rockers nor need wheeled contraptions to get around.

As we discussed in The WanderList: Why Deaf People Love To Travel, most deaf and hard of hearing folks are no stranger to airports. So why on Earth are so many airport employees (who are modernized enough to hold up iPads with our names) still such strangers to our unique needs?

Ironically, we gave Delta a fairly neutral-to-good rating on our Captioning In-Flight Entertainment: The Final Frontier article. They can’t be all that bad if they at least caption ON Demand movies, right?

That’s where you, the airline customer, must decide. Will you put up with wheelchairs because you’re grateful that a captioned Frozen awaits in the 767, or is that a cold comfort?

Some Deaf people admit to shrugging and welcoming the chance to soothe their weary feet after a long day of TSA pat downs to terminal. But for the majority of able-bodied, differently-abled travelers, the wheelchair offer is nothing less than a slap to our face.

It means that to many airlines, disability accommodations are merely lip service to federal guidelines. It means airlines equate hearing loss with age-related presbyacusis  – kind of like Grandma Edna, who can’t follow conversations anymore – and completely forget the huge spectrum that includes Deaf Culture

It means that although many airlines such as Delta and United Airlines have set up disability advisory boards, there's still much work to do. The deaf representation is either too small - or drowned out by pointless bureaucracy and liability rules that result in baffling accommodation protocols such as this.

Until airline decision-makers learn to literally walk in our shoes, they’ll never realize that most of us can indeed walk – and proudly so.

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We’re aware that issues facing the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing Community can become quite passionate and divided. What can we say, we’re a group of passionate people! While we fully support a community full of passion, we also require that comments are respectful. We think negative attitudes and disrespect are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with people, you just need to do it respectfully. We reserve the right to delete or edit any comments we feel are judgmental, rude, or of attacking nature.

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