- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

The first of 600 airport screeners who will assist disabled persons at security checkpoints are scheduled to begin on-the-job training April 29 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
So far, all training has been done by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and private firms who handled airport security until the federal government took over management of all security operations on Feb. 17.
The special training for sensitivity to disabled persons was prompted by reported complaints from disabled travelers. The complaints include screeners taking service dogs away from blind persons as they passed through metal detectors, amputees being ordered to remove prosthetic devices, and Braille-type computer notebooks getting destroyed by X-ray machines.
A visually impaired man at the downtown office of the Paralyzed Veterans of America said yesterday that he was not allowed to take a "stand-up" cane on an airplane because screeners were concerned it could be used as a weapon. They would allow him only to take a collapsible cane.
"This is a whole totally different thing than we've ever done before," said Sandra Cammaroto, a TSA security adviser who oversees screener training on dealing with disabled persons.
She met with advocacy groups for the disabled yesterday as part of her effort to form a coalition that would advise the TSA on appropriate ways to screen disabled travelers.
Mrs. Cammaroto admitted problems have arisen on occasion with disabled passengers but said the TSA is making progress.
"We are starting from the ground up," she said. "It does take time to get people in place and get money."
One of the first efforts was a training video put together in two days by the FAA and American Airlines. It demonstrated to screeners that they should write out messages for deaf persons, lead blind persons by the arm through metal detectors and speak in slow and simple phrases to persons with cognitive disabilities.
Among groups joining the coalition are the National Council on Disability, the American Council of the Blind, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the American Diabetes Association.
The TSA was organized by Congress after September 11 to coordinate security on all transportation systems nationwide, including airlines. Mrs. Cammaroto was hired away from the FAA, where she has worked for the past decade as a security adviser.
Disability advocates at the meeting with Mrs. Cammaroto yesterday said they were encouraged by her presentation but would withhold judgment to see whether the result is equally encouraging.
"I think they're making an effort," said Melanie Brunson, advocacy director for the American Council of the Blind. "They've got a way to go."
Other problems disabled persons have encountered at airport checkpoints include wheelchair-bound persons being ordered to remove their shoes for inspection and then being unable to get them back on, diabetics who have had difficulty getting syringes past screeners searching for sharp objects, and quadriplegics having the cushions in their wheelchairs searched when they were unable to get up from their seats by themselves.
"The problem is not that they're doing it, it's what's the right way for a security person to go about doing it," said Robert Herman, attorney for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Marvin Bailey, a visually impaired man who helps train disabled persons to live independently, said the inspections and questions by screeners are sometimes unnecessarily intrusive.
"They're taking away their dignity," he said. He blamed much of the problem on a lack of awareness by screeners.
"I think they just don't know," he added.
One of the most widely reported incidents involved Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, whose prosthetic hip set off a metal detector at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in January. He was escorted to a room where screeners ordered him to pull down his pants for an closer inspection.
The new security agency is required by law to have more than 30,000 airport screeners trained and on the job by Nov. 19.

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