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Travel with disabilities: navigating airport security

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All passengers must undergo a security screening process – be patient and cooperative, but know your rights before you search flights. The best way to do this is plan ahead and be prepared.

On November 22, 2010, a special counselor from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released a letter providing information about TSA screening procedures, including the use of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) and „pat downs.“ The letter addressed how people with disabilities are affected by these screening procedures:

„Some people with disabilities are ineligible for screening using AIT including the following: people who use wheelchairs and scooters who cannot stand; anyone who cannot stand with their arms raised at shoulder level for the 5–7 second duration of the scan; anyone who is not able to stand without the use of a cane, crutch, walker, etc; people who use service animals; people using or carrying oxygen; and individuals accompanying and providing assistance to those individuals described above. These people will be screened using alternate screening techniques including pat-downs.“

  • If an assistive device can be passed through the security screener without setting it off, it need not be subject to further screening. However, if it does set it off or looks like it could contain a prohibited device or substance, then it will be subject to further screening.
  • If any person requests a private screening, that screening must be accommodated. If it is requested in a timely manner, airports personnel must complete the screening in time for the passenger to board his/her plane.
  • Assistive devices such as walking canes, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted in the passenger cabin. Assistive devices such as augmentative communication devices and Braille note takers will go through the same sort of security screening process as that used for personal computers. However, passengers who have special equipment that cannot go through the x-ray machine should notify the screeners and request a physical/visual inspection of the equipment. A slate and stylus are permitted on board the aircraft after inspection; however, it may be necessary to advise the security screener of the purpose of the slate and stylus and that it facilitates the passenger's com­munications.
  • Service animals, once inspected to ensure prohibited items are not concealed, are permitted on board an aircraft. Any equipment (including, but not limited to, harness, backpack, leash or collar) that is carried on the animal will be manually inspected. If necessary, remind the security screeners that the service animal's belongings should not be removed during the manual inspection.
  • Syringes are permitted on board an aircraft once it is determined that the person has a documented medical need for the syringe. To show a documented medical need, a passenger must have in his or her possession medication that requires the use of a needle or syringe. The medication must have a professionally printed label identifying the medication or a manufacturer's name or a pharmaceutical la­bel.
  • Airport personnel in some countries may not be familiar with disability-related equipment such as insulin pumps and blood sugar meters, which can cause delays in clearing security. Carry documentation of all medical equipment to present to airport security during the screening process.
  • The limit of one carry-on bag and one personal bag (purse or briefcase) does not apply to medical supplies and/or assistive with disabilities generally may carry medical equipment, medications, and assistive devices on board the aircraft.


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