Devices and Flight- Not Just Playing Angry Birds

26 08 2012

Flying can be fun. It can also be scary for some. But for an individual with a disability, it may be difficult, and sometimes, it may just be less than a positive experience.

Recently, Carly Fleischmann, who is a 16 year old girl with Autism, was travelling. She was told to shut off her iPad, which happens to be her communication device.  Fortunately, the pilot allowed her to keep her device on, in airplane mode so that she could use it to communicate.

There seems to be a huge disconnect between the disability community and the general public. Assistive Technology is all around us. We use it in our everyday lives, and don’t realize it. Your iPad, iPhone, even a pencil, can be considered a piece of Assistive Technology. If I were on a flight, and were told to not speak during takeoff and landing, I guess I’d be able to do so. However, to literally take away someone’s “voice”- whether it be an iPad or a dedicated AAC device- is akin to removing an individual’s wheelchair, or not allowing an individual who is deaf to sign.

I think what bothers me the most is that the assumption was made that Carly had her iPad to play games, to watch videos, of whatever. However, like many individuals with disabilities that rely on Assistive Technology to integrate into their environment, this was clearly not the case. The lack of understanding is what bothers me. It doesn’t take much time to try to understand. We have become increasingly self-involved, and I fear that by doing this, we’ve lost some of our compassion, our ability to understand and accept differences – and make accommodations when it’s needed.

While I cannot speak to how Carly felt, I am hopeful that this will spark some real change in how the airlines view technology – particularly for students with disabilities. I have no issue turning off my phone, laptop, or iPad during takeoff or landing, but I sure would if it were my only means to communicate.

Maybe someday, children like Carly and others with disabilities won’t have to deal with this kind of thing.

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