Friday, August 17, 2012

Communication Needs On A Flight

Flight Attendants Don't Know Everything?

I just finished reading an article about how a teen with autism that uses an iPad for communication was told to put the device away by a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight. When I read the headline, “Airline iPad Policy Sparks Disability Dispute”, I thought I would be angry by the time I finished reading the article. But then I realized, this is the perfect teachable moment.
The teen’s aide explained that the iPad was her method of communicating and the flight attendant (according to the article) responded by saying “with all her years of flying that she’s never seen or heard anybody using an iPad to communicate before”. She was simply following Department of Transportation guidelines and the policy of the airline. The first thought that came to mind was – how old is this lady? Then I thought – how is it that people still don’t know about this great age of technology that we live in? Also – how does such a large corporation such as American Airlines still not have their policies reflect these great advancements? Of course these things are obvious to me; this is the world I live in. So it’s unfair to automatically assume that someone is just being a big jerk. With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to educate those of you who are blissfully unaware so that you don’t become the jerk in an article over a misunderstanding.
Communication Needs

For someone who is non-verbal, taking away their communication device, whether it is an iPad, DynaVox or flip cards is like taping your mouth shut with duct tape. Would you like to sit through a flight or car ride or football game and not be able to express your thoughts or feelings? I know sometimes you wish you could tape someone ELSE’S mouth shut but let’s focus here. Really picture yourself doing something you do daily – chatting with a coworker, ordering food, explaining medical symptoms to a doctor, telling a joke – and do it with duct tape over your mouth.

Some of you may think, “ok so I’ll just gesture with my hands, point to what I need or nod my head”. Let’s see what would happen if you tied your arms down to your body so that you couldn’t use them and couldn’t stand up or walk, either. That’s how it is for people like my daughter. She can’t do sign language and her pointing and gesturing ability is limited. You might also think, “it’s just a short plane ride – what’s the big deal?” Well, besides the fact that that’s just plain stupid, what if the person has a medical emergency coming on (for example, some people get auras right before they have a seizure) or a leg cramp or just realized they need their medication or need to use the restroom? All very important reasons to be able to SPEAK!
The End Result
For those of you interested, according to the article the teen was able to keep out her iPad after an intervention from the pilot. Thinking about the commotion that must have gone on that would prompt the pilot to mediate, I would have been very embarrassed if it was me in that teen’s shoes. I’m sure there were some jerks on that flight who were annoyed that their flight was being held up “over an iPad” but now that you know why it’s so important for some to be able to hold on to their personal devices YOU won’t be that jerk if the situation ever arises! Hey, you may even be able to intervene on behalf of the person who can’t communicate as easily as you can! And that person will be blessed to have a good Samaritan around at just the right time!

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