TSA Turns Away Mute Stroke Victim

KABC in Los Angeles reported on April 5 that our heroes in the TSA had successfully prevented another innocent disabled person from flying. This time it was a stroke victim in a wheelchair who couldn’t answer questions about her expired driver’s license because—also due to the stroke—she is mute.

Sherry Wright said she was with her sister Heidi and tried to explain for her, having brought along her sister’s Social Security card and papers from the DMV (and possibly also a state ID card). She said that not only did the agent reject her explanation, he or she rudely insisted on hearing it from Heidi herself. When she was unable to respond, being mute, they were turned away, and Heidi had to make an eight-hour bus trip instead.

I once stupidly forgot my driver’s license when on my way home for the holidays, and didn’t realize this until I needed it at the airport. I assumed you couldn’t fly without it, but I asked about that because if I missed that flight I wasn’t likely to get another one. Turns out that they will let you fly without an ID. Or at least in my case they did, but only after a brief but uncomfortable interrogation by an airport police officer. I was fine with the questions themselves, but he was in angry-cop-interrogation mode like I was a suspect. Which I guess I was, in a way, but what I kept thinking was, “hey genius, don’t you think the fact that I showed up with no ID at all makes it much less likely that I am a professional terrorist?” (All but one of the 9/11 hijackers had valid licenses and/or IDs, and even that one had a passport.)

I thought this, I didn’t say it.

That thought also applies here, it seems to me. Maybe it’s not impossible that a terrorist would disguise herself as a 58-year-old mute stroke victim in a wheelchair (yes it is), but if she did, she would most likely not show up with an expired driver’s license. Don’t you think? Genius?

Now is the time when we quote the inevitable TSA spokesperson:

“I think it could have been handled differently by the TSA and it probably could have been handled differently by the family, and hopefully moving forward the family won’t have this problem again, because they know about the programs that we have in place,” said Nico Melendez with the TSA.

The TSA does have a page on its website for disabled travelers, which includes the number of the “TSA Cares” help line. But according to the family, they called that number, yet when they got to the airport TSA still did not, in fact, care. And the page has no written information for travelers who are mute or have another speech impediment that might interfere with an interrogation. There is information for the deaf or hearing-impaired, who sometimes also have a speech impediment, but there’s nothing that would have helped in this case.

If Nico was talking about the TSA’s Disability Notification Card, it’s hard to see how that would have helped. All that does is provide a card on which you can write down what your disability is, so that you can avoid embarrassment by disclosing it to the TSA “in a discrete [sic] [ugh] manner.” But the card doesn’t exempt you from screening, and it isn’t an official verification of disability status. So having a card that says “I AM MUTE” is no different than, let’s say, having your sister along with you to explain on your behalf. Which did not work.

Ultimately, as I have mentioned repeatedly (after hearing it from actual security experts), nothing done since 9/11 has made us any safer except (1) reinforced cockpit doors and (2) passenger awareness of what might happen if we allow a hijacking. If the TSA would admit it can’t spot terrorists by looking at them (or talking to them), or if we would just get rid of it, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen so often.