Huffpost Travel

Flying With Disabilities: Tips For Navigating Air Travel, TSA

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Shelbi Walser, a 12-year-old Dallas-area girl who uses a wheelchair, alleges the TSA treated her poorly at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport Sunday after agents claimed to have found explosive residue on her hands.

MyFoxDFW.com reports that Walser was traveling with her mother, Tammy Daniels, en route to Florida for treatment for her genetic bone disorder when the incident occurred.

Daniels claims she was not allowed to be near her daughter during the hour-long encounter and filmed the incident, according to ABC News. Daniels also says that her daughter's wheelchair was not checked for explosives. Shelbi says passengers witnessing the event showed support for her, saying things like, "Really? You're going to do this to her? Y'all have to take her somewhere private where she's not out in the public and everyone can see her."

Shelbi told local Dallas network WFAA that she told the TSA agents screening her that the residue could have "come off fertilizer because we have chickens ... I could have run through something from them. It could have just come off the ground because I roll through everything."

Daniels told MyFoxDFW that after a bomb specialist showed up they were told they could go and were offered no explanation about the event. Of the incident, Daniels said: "It was a little much. I don't know what to learn from this one. Somebody, they need to go back to the drawing board on this one."

When contacted by HuffPost Travel, a TSA spokesman said,

We regret that the experience of this young lady was not a positive one as we always strive to screen passengers with dignity and respect while ensuring the safety of all travelers. Everything TSA does is designed to protect against another terrorist attack. In all likelihood, this traveler would have presented no risk, yet we could take no chances. She alarmed for explosive residue and TSA took the necessary steps to resolve the alarm.

Additionally, on its website, the TSA suggests passengers with disabilities and medical conditions call the TSA Cares helpline (855-787-2227) with questions and concerns up to 72 hours in advance of flying. (Passengers who are deaf or hard of hearing can also email the helpline at TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.)

Also on its site, the TSA states that "the screening process for a passenger who uses a wheelchair or scooter is determined by that passenger's ability to stand or walk." It notes that passengers who are unable to stand or walk will be screened by a patdown and that their wheelchair or scooter "will be inspected, including the seat cushions and any non-removable pouches or fanny packs. It will also be tested for traces of explosives, and any removable pouches will be required to undergo X-ray screening."

To help make the airport process go more smoothly for persons with disabilities, Mark Perriello, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, told HuffPost Travel that people should plan ahead and anticipate "that there could be drama" with the TSA.

Perriello said that the TSA Cares helpline is an important resource, but added that people with disabilities have difficulties with security because TSA screeners are sometimes "unfamiliar [with] and therefore unable to interact with people with disabilities." Perriello added that there needs to more comprehensive training dealing with customers with disabilities." He added that passengers with disabilities should request assistance as soon as they arrive at the airport to help smooth the screening process.

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