Airline iPad Policy Sparks Disability Dispute
American Airlines is taking heat for requiring a teen who is nonverbal to stow the iPad she relies on to communicate during a recent flight.
Carly Fleischmann, a 17-year-old with autism from Toronto, lambasted American Airlines on her Facebook page earlier this week for limiting access to the iPad she uses to speak.
On her way home from Los Angeles last Friday, Fleischmann said that a flight attendant told her to put away the tablet for takeoff and landing and was unwilling to bend even after Fleischmann’s aide explained that it was a communication device.
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“She stated to me that it was the policy of the airlines that I couldn’t have my iPad and that with all her years of flying that she’s never seen or heard anybody using an iPad to communicate before,” wrote Fleischmann, who said that her communication needs have always been accommodated by the crew on previous flights.
“My iPad to me is like a voice. Can you imagine being on the airplane and (being) asked not to talk for over 25 minutes,” she wrote, adding that she was ultimately allowed to keep her iPad out after the captain of the plane intervened but the device had to be placed “in front of my seat out of my reach.”
Fleischmann, whose intellectual capabilities went unknown until age 11 when she began to type, is well-known with her story having been featured on ABC News, CNN and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” among others. She has a strong social media presence with over 42,000 fans on Facebook and some 26,000 Twitter followers and they were quick to respond, flooding American Airlines’ Facebook page to demand answers.
Airline officials responded directly to many of the postings indicating that they have reached out to Fleischmann privately, but that the flight attendant acted in compliance with the airline’s policy and federal rules.
“Our flight attendants are responsible for following U.S. Department of Transportation regulations on the accommodation of customers with disabilities,” airline spokesman Ed Martelle said in a statement to Disability Scoop. “American’s electronic device policy is designed to be in full compliance with the DOT. Likewise, federal safety rules require the stowage of personal items during takeoff and landing and prohibit the use of electronic devices at the same periods. We regret any discomfort Carly felt or difficulty this may cause customers.”
Federal rules and American Airlines’ policy on the use of electronics make exceptions for certain medical devices including hearing aids and pacemakers but do not specifically mention assistive and augmentative communication devices.
Late Wednesday, Fleischmann said she was working to get a meeting with representatives of American Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss the matter.