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TSA: Pat-Downs A Must For Some With Disabilities


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In an open letter to members of the disability community, a top Transportation Security Administration official says that some people with disabilities will be required to undergo “alternate screening techniques including pat-downs.”

The letter sent Monday was designed to clarify airport screening techniques ahead of the Thanksgiving travel rush. It comes as more airports shift their screening procedures from metal detectors to full-body scanners. Those who opt out of the machines or who trigger alarms are subject to intense pat-downs, which have been sharply criticized by some passengers who claim that they are too invasive.

However, TSA officials say some people with disabilities are ineligible for the body scanners and therefore must automatically undergo secondary screening measures. This includes individuals who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices and cannot stand, travelers with service animals, people who rely on a cane or walker and those unable to lift their arms to shoulder level for several seconds.

Similarly, travelers who are accompanying or assisting a person who cannot pass through the machines will also be subject to alternative screening measures, wrote Kimberly Walton, the TSA’s special counselor in the letter.

“There is nothing punitive about our measures; it just makes good security sense,” Walton wrote. Nonetheless, she acknowledged, “the pat-down you receive will be more thorough than what you may have received previously.”

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Comments (11 Responses)

  1. buttonlass says:

    As the mother of two children who cannot comply with arm raising instructions I am very disturbed by this. Both myself and our children will have to go through the extra pat down. I may try never flying again until this policy is reversed or ruled discriminatory. I would rather get scanned than have some TSA agent grope me but apparently having kids means I gave up that right. What a crock.

  2. AliceTea says:

    While I thoroughly understand the need for security, and some people with disabilities being required to undergo alternate screening techniques – I require a more in-depth answer than “the pat-down you receive will be more thorough than what you may have received previously.”

    As a wheelchair user, I’m used to the alternative method of pat-down. Yes, it’s a wee bit embarrassing but necessary. HOWEVER, the pat-downs I’ve received previously have always been conducted out in the open, with them feeling (not patting down) under, the sides and between my breasts, and feeling (NOT patting down) my bottom. So.. what does MORE THOROUGH mean?

  3. pattyrocks says:

    I guess there is something (positively) to be said for being home-bound.

  4. CinTaylor says:

    I’ve never brought my son on a plane, partly because of his fears and partly because I’ve heard of the less than spectacular treatment given to people with intellectual disabilities by some airlines. Now I have another reason. He’s been learning for years about good touches and bad touches and where people can touch you and where they shouldn’t. I understand the need for security, but how can I explain to him that nobody can touch him in his private areas…. except for strangers in an airport?

  5. normansmith02 says:

    Every time that I have flown, I have been patted down. When I have met both President Bush and President Obama, I was patted down. It is the world we live in. How indignant would we feel should a terrorist fake a disability to get through an obvious security hole to bring down a plane or kill our President?

  6. says:

    There is no way that certain kids with autism are going to be able to stand still for 10 seconds in a scanner (with or without a parent). There have been times we barely have gotten through the metal detector without a scene. So then you are going to have a stranger physically (and inappropriately) touch children with autism?…Some of whom are very aversive to being touched in the first place? Really? There has got to be a better to way to make it safe to fly. I just can’t accept that this is the ONLY way to make things safe.

    Let’s face it, someone has a lot of $$$ tied up in those scanning machines so I am guessing they aren’t going away any time soon. But something has to be done about these pat downs…especially now that strangers are legally allowed to touch our children all over their bodies. As a mom, it makes me sick and sad to know our country has come to this.

  7. Maggie says:

    Traveled recently with my adult daughter with disabilities. She was taken in her wheelchair by TSA officers to be patted down. I was also trying to manage my 83 year old mother, who because of her pacemaker also needed to be wanded and patted down. As I was retrieving all of our belongings, I heard some laughter and giggles. Looking over, I saw my daughter laughing and giggling, telling the officers that it “tickled.” She brought smiles to the faces of many stressed out travelers, myself included.

  8. ksiek says:

    I have a real problem with this whole procedure. It is a huge waste of time and resources and creates a false sense of security.

    It is ridiculous to waste time doing these invasive searches on all flyers with disabilities (particularly little kids!) instead of focusing on travelers who may actually be a potential threat. No other members of the traveling public have no alternative to the “pat-down” and no other group is subject to this kind of blanket search. That’s discrimination!

    Recent terror attacks on air traffic have come through cargo not hidden on passengers. That seems like the logical place to focus stepped up security efforts.

    The underwear bomber didn’t blow up anything he just set his crotch on fire. Even if we do have another attempt like the one from last Christmas, does TSA really think this will stop them? Will a suicide bomber who is detected with this process just quietly surrender or will they just blow themselves up in the terminal instead of on the plane?

    TSA personnel need better training similar to what law enforcement professionals receive to learn how to spot suspicious individuals, who they can then pull out of line and screen at their leisure, at a safe distance from other travelers. Wasting time and resources on feeling up granny and little kids with disabilities dilutes our ability to focus on travelers who may pose a legitimate threat.

  9. triple5kidd says:

    I hear a lot of people venting about the patdowns, but not really listing any alternatives. I too think the patdowns are invasive and at times inappropriate, but it is the society we live in. We try to provide accomodations to our population with disabilities, but how long before we acclimate them to the real world.
    ksieck…I would be interested to hear what you think they should do to make this better. Last i checked the terrorists who took over the flights on 9/11 were human, not cargo. Also, what better training do law enforcement have to pick and choose who they want…if you want discrimination, there it is.

  10. debra says:

    I was laughing like crazy when they gave me a patdown; It tickled so much

  11. donna says:

    I burst out laughing during a patdown; very ticklish

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