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I am a soon-to-be middle aged below knee amputee. I am also the Mommy to a very active little boy. I have learned that being a parent with a disability can create some unusual and sometimes humorous situations. This blogger is available for hire! Let's talk and learn how a blog can expand your business.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Humiliation... And Now I'm Angry

After a fun filled week in California, it was finally time to pack up and go home. Robby was tired and homesick. He cried himself to sleep on our last night in California because he missed his daddy and Charlie Kitty. It was easy to convince him to help pack up, and we happily sang songs on the way to the airport.

I was nervous maneuvering the airport with Robby in tow. Scott was able to secure a security pass to help me tame Robby when we departed last week. I was thankful for his help because, being an amputee, getting cleared through airport security can be a lengthy process. I have never gone through security with Robby by myself, so I was apprehensive. Little did I know that my fears were founded.

As predicted, and as is typical, I was directed to the Plexiglas waiting area after I triggered the metal detector. Robby proudly walked through the sensors, running into my arms. Apparently that was a mistake, because he was taken back through the sensors again because he had been "compromised" by touching me. He was not pleased.

I am used to the screening process. I have also learned that, although the system is supposed to be standardized, no two airports approach the amputee in the same way. I never know exactly what to expect, but I have learned that being gracious and smiling goes a long way to shorten the process for all involved.

In all of the years since I have become an amputee, I can honestly say that I have can't think of a more upsetting and humiliating experience than what I endured at the hands of TSA at the Orange County, California airport. Robby and I both left the screening station flustered, in tears and late for our plane. It didn't take long for my humiliation to morph into anger.

After Robby's second screening, he was directed by an imposing figure to sit in a chair and not to communicate with me. He was scared and asked me if everything was okay. He broke the "rule" and the consequence was a full body pat down. I was forced to sit in a chair and helplessly watch my scared little boy get patted down for explosives. I was angry and perplexed when they pulled back his hands and peeked into his diaper. When his ordeal was over, Robby sat quietly shaking in a chair staring at me.

When they were done clearing a four year old for explosive materials, they turned their attention to me. I was taken through the normal pat down procedure to which I am accustomed. I was then informed, in a matter of fact tone, that the rules have changed as of today (Friday, May 28, 2010) and that further screening was necessary.

I was instructed to remove my leg. I refused, stating that it was against procedure to insist that I remove my prosthetic. Another man was brought over, who lectured me about the increased security risk and the need to keep screening procedures current. He reiterated that the rules have changed, and that he needed my prosthetic. Looking at my frightened little boy and knowing that we were becoming pressed for time, I begrudgingly removed my leg and handed it to the rude agent.

"What's that?" the man asked while pointing to my liner. I explained that it was my prosthetic liner, and that I wore it to keep my prosthetic attached. He insisted that he needed to run my liner through the machine as well.

I don't think that the general public understands how personal a residual limb is to the amputee. It is on par with one's genitals. I simply don't remove my liner in public exposing my limb, and I was humiliated by the request.

At this point, our plane was boarding. I had amassed a group of four TSA officers around me, and Robby was scared and in tears. I knew that what they were asking me to do was wrong, but I also knew that fighting at that moment would caused us to miss our plane. I just wanted to get home.

I took off my liner. I sat quietly in a chair as onlookers and gawking passengers watched me expose one of my most personal features. I felt defeated and humiliated.

My liner, which is supposed to be maintained in a hygienic manner, was thrown into a screening bin inside out and run through the machine. No care was given to sanitizing the container which I am sure is riddled with fecal matter and bacteria. I was given no opportunity or materials to clean the liner after it was contaminated. It was half-hazardly thrown into my lap as I was told that I could leave.

I put my leg on and gave Robby a huge hug. We gathered our carry-on items which had been removed from our bags and strewn on a metal table. Tears were rolling down my face as I called my family for support.

My tears quickly turned to outrage as I recounted my experience. No person should be subjected to this level of humiliation. If Robby had not been with me, I have little doubt that I would have stood my ground. I am not one to back down from an injustice, and I regret submitting so quickly. The removal of my liner, without so much as providing a towel for cover, placed me in a submissive and vulnerable position.

If there had been a devotee nearby, pictures easily could have been taken and my limb would now be plastered across pornography sights. I hope that no pictures were taken, but I will never know for sure. My liner's cleanliness was compromised opening the possibility for infection and, worst case scenario, leading to a higher level amputation. I was put at undo risk because of my TSA screening.

As an amputee, I accept that more screening is necessary. I understand the necessity of keeping the skies safe, and I have little doubt that terrorists have considered utilizing amputees and prosthetics for carrying explosives. This being said, what happened to me and my son is unconscionable.

17 comments:

  1. >>>As an amputee, I accept that more screening is necessary.<<<

    No. It's not necessary. Read up on what the Israelis do for airline security. What you went through was obscene and disgusting, and should not have been done.

    Consider filing a lawsuit against the TSA on the grounds of mental anguish. Find a personal injury attorney who's willing to take a risk in order to fight them. There are some out there.

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  2. Thanks for sharing a humilating experience. Its not an easy thing when you lose your dignity at the hands of those who are suppose to preserve it.

    I was wondering if you could share some words or your story on my blog? I am working with disability groups and the TSA to improve their policies.

    http://disabledtsa.blogspot.com

    safetraveler@gmail.com

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  3. Over 30 years ago I watched as an amputee was forced to remove his leg just to prove that it was really a prosthetic leg. My little 4 year old son was horrified as he watched, thinking that the guards were going to make him tear off his leg too! It was also at Orange County airport.
    I was outraged then and am more so now....hey, all you sheep, let's start helping one another thru this! I don't know how but we have to do something!

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  4. I'm so sorry for you experience. I hope you have filed complaints with the airline, TSA Office of the Inspector General and your Congressional representatives.

    File a complaint with the TSA Office of the Inspector General, not TSA since they will bury the complaint. The contact there is DHSOIGHOTLINE@dhs.gov. or1-800-323-8603
    More resources are available at http://www.travelunderground.org/index.php

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  5. I am so sorry for what you were forced to endure.

    The TSA is a criminal, out-of-control agency that abuses people with impunity. And unfortunately, too many people in America still don't get it. They're fine with the abuse, as long as it doesn't happen to them.

    I have sent your story to my entire mailing list and have also posted it at Elliott Blog (Christopher Elliott is a journalist who writes for the Washington Post and National Geographic, among other publications) and at Travel Underground (click on my name).

    I urge you to join Travel Underground, where we are fighting TSA abuse. I also urge you to publicize your story by posting it on as many blogs, websites as possible.

    People can -- and will -- continue to stick their heads in the sand. And we must continue to try to get them to raise them.

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  6. I read this because you posted the link to The Bloggess' Facebook page. I am not an amputee, but my husband very recently became one, thanks to a drunk driver. I understand how private a residual limb and the act of removing a prosthesis is. Would they ask a woman who had undergone a mastectomy to remove her prosthetic breasts in full view of everyone? I am outraged that you and your
    son were treated in such a manner. I hope this blog gets some publicity and no one else is subjected to this type of treatment. I am so sorry you had to go through this.

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  7. I have shared this post on Facebook and Twitter. I am HORRIFIED that this happened to you and to your son.

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  8. Just letting you know that this story is still being told, and listened to. Please consider filing a lawsuit. I think it would help other amputees.

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  9. I am an airline employee and hold a security badge. I have seen many of these incidents, some even directed at airline/airport employees. Some have even cost employees their security badges and thus their jobs. The TSA to me is a case of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Something has to be done to stop this abuse of unchecked power.

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  10. I am a former TSA officer and I would just like to point out that the TSA is supposed to offer any passenger with a disability a private screening.

    I understand that this matter goes deeper than just that. But it's important to know when they violate their own rules.

    Also, you're child shouldn't be patted down for speaking.

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  11. Peggy,

    I'm so sorry to hear what you had to endure in the name of so-called "security." It was wrong and there is no excuse for it - stopping terrorism never justifies the wholesale mistreatment of innocent citizens who just want to travel.

    I encourage you to share your story at http://tinyurl.com/AbusedByTSA and join the Travel Underground community at travelunderground.org. There are a lot of resources there for people who want to get in touch with their elected officials regarding this grossly inappropriate behaviour by TSA screening clerks.

    Best regards,
    CelticWhisper

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  12. I'm very sorry to hear your story. Makes me angry!

    Today's brown shirts wear blue!

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  13. Just this past Wednesday I came back from a holiday in Portland. Reading your story made me recall the first time I had to be screened and I had just become an amputee. Horribly self-conscious and embarrassed on a plethora of planes during those first few years...I can't believe I buried those "memories" so deep. Anyway, your story is still being read and I cannot possibly imagine what your son went through. Absolutely [fill in the blank with your choice of emotion].

    TSA is nothing but airport rent-a-cops who don't even screen for drugs when they wipe down your hands/knees/legs/prosthetics with their bomb-sniffing wand. Aren't we battling the war on drugs, too? What's the point in going through the peep show machine if you get thrown in the penalty box and get patted down anyway? I tell every TSA employee to massage hard and if they do it right, I'll tip well. The occasional moan doesn't hurt. Hey, if they have to inconvenience me and make me feel uncomfortable, then I have the right to do the same.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  14. I am an above-knee amputee due to a congenital defect, and I wear a prosthetic leg with a cosmetic cover. I am traveling to Hawaii in October and came online to find out what to expect with regards to security. Now I'm very concerned! I wonder if it would be easier to pack my leg in my suitcase and travel on crutches? Anyone have any ideas on that?

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  15. @Mollie. You should do two things;
    first. contact the airlines and express your concern and ask for guidance.

    second. contact the airport manager of the airport you are leaving. they have more control over how TSA behaves and can make sure policies are followed.

    Like other readers have posted, there are rules in place to properly search the disabled. Problem is TSA does not always follow the rules.

    @Anon. TSA employees are NOT police officers. they are federal SECURITY guards. Which is why it is probably better for the law abiding public that they have no ARREST powers.

    send me your stories. I am working with AAPD to develop policies with TSA and to help all of us who must fly to MAINTAIN DIGNITY.

    - Safe Traveler
    http://disabledtsa.blogspot.com

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  16. Have been an amputee since 1965---I guess I have been very fortunate. I have never ever had any problems with security checks. i just tell them I am an amputee. They do their usual check which up to now have been no problem. My wheel chair always there after they are finished and off we go to my gate! so guess i have always been lucky. Am So sorry you experienced what you did, hope my trip next month to my hometown (CHI) goes smoothly. have been traveling the airways over 30 yrs and have had no problems. Last time did not have to takes shoes off which I did in the past, it is different at each airport I found.

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  17. Even though it's been four years since this happened, I'm still so sorry for you. My dad had multiple double knee replacements when I was about five, and spent month after month in a hospital seven hundred miles away, barely recovering from Strep B all along one leg. When he finally rolled into the airport after being smuggled out of the hospital, he was almost arrested when the TSA woman threw his card authorizing the wheelchair and his police badge to the ground. Unable to get it, he stood his ground and maintained that it was her job to retrieve it. She called security. It was almost really bad, but I still am grateful he didn't have to prove he really did have staples in both legs to fly home.

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