Friday, February 22, 2013

The TSA and Our Most Vulnerable Citizens

Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. ~ James 1:27, MSG

I was on my way to enjoy a brief vacation with my family when I heard it on the news again.  On February 9, 2013, the Transportation Security Administration demonstrated yet another incredible lack of decency at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, stopping a 3 year old in a wheelchair for special screening.  The child was so traumatized by the experience, she sobbed that she no longer wanted to go to Disney.

As I listened to this, my stomach turned, knowing that this could have been any one of my 2 children with special needs or the dozens of terrific children our ministry serves.  It also occurred to me that I have heard horror stories like this before.  This sticks with a person because it seems so completely horrifying that someone who is amongst the most vulnerable of our citizens would have to endure such treatment.

If people only knew how challenging it is to travel with disabilities in the first place, perhaps they could fully grasp the magnitude of these incidents.  For our children with mobility issues, getting to and through the airport is just the beginning of the struggles.  Getting settled on an airplane can be frightening and uncertain as well.  If any additional medical supplies must also accompany us, the TSA checkpoint can be utterly nerve-wracking.  Needles, oxygen and expensive medications must all be treated in a specific way and have travel letters packed along with them in order to justify carrying them aboard a plane.  And even with all of this extra attention, a family may still have difficulty.

Traveling with a child who has "invisible disabilities" like ADHD, autism or anxiety disorder presents its own challenges.  Preparing children with these challenges ahead of time requires extra effort and foresight.  Talking about how to behave and what not to say, even jokingly, may present some real angst with parents until the family has arrived at their intended destination.  Impulsivity, nervous behaviors or tics could land families in one of these unenviable types of situations.

Given all of this added stress to air travel for those with a disabled family member, a person would hope that our government would have the good common sense to show some compassion to travelers with extra challenges.  Researching stories for this post, I found the number of stories involving our most fragile and vulnerable citizens to be alarming. First, I came across the 2011 story of a 29 year old cognitively impaired male who was traveling with his father to Disney from Detroit.  During this incident, the passenger, who has the cognition of a 2 year old, was questioned about the adult diaper under his clothing.  A fidget that he had carried for comfort for 20 years was also confiscated.  After that incident, the traveling public was told that this was merely an “isolated case of bad judgment.”

Yet, in March of 2012, a video of a 2010 incident involving a child in a wheelchair surfaced.  Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that this little 3-year-old boy with a broken leg was prohibited from receiving any comfort from his parents during the screening process.  Trauma specialists can confirm how events like this have the potential to permanently affect our children.  The TSA's response to the outrage over this incident was to claim, "the agency would perform fewer and less-invasive pat-downs on children."

Belying this claim, another incident in December of 2012 garnered a great deal of attention as a 12 year old in a wheelchair was delayed at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.  Screeners found that this young lady had explosive residue on her hands when swabbed, and would not let her proceed to her flight to Florida for medical treatment.  Eventually, an explosive expert had to be called in to clear her for flight, but only after driving the child to tears.

And now this latest incident.  It truly makes it hard to believe the agency's claim that "TSA Cares" when it comes to passengers flying with disabilities and medical conditions.  And while we parents would be wise to check with the TSA, beginning with their website links, in advance of travel to assure smooth passage, our government owes its most defenseless citizens far better treatment in airports.

We may not make the connection with faith here, but God calls us in His word to rise to the aid the weak and innocent in such situations.  Thusfar, we, the church, have been failing horribly.  Standing in a church on Sundays, praying for better is barely the tip of the iceberg in obeying the Lord's mandate.  We must rise up to permanently change such behavior.  Writing our lawmakers en masse is absolutely called for at times like this.  Contacting advocacy agencies like the The American Association of People with Disabilities to ask why they aren't spearheading change for the way those with special needs are treated by the TSA is completely appropriate.  Making our voices heard, standing up for the vulnerable is essential.  Let us not delay doing so for another day, lest there be another innocent 3 year old child traumatized by our own sanctioned security.

PRAY:  God of justice, You are the one who sees.  Nothing is hidden from Your sight.  Come to the aid of your harassed and mistreated children.  Empower us through Your Holy Spirit to act on behalf of those who are being violated by our own government agencies.  Restore us to a place where we are known for the godly way we treat the least and the lost in our culture.

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  1. My goodness, I had no idea these things were going on! It is so sad, and sickening. I'm really glad you posted this... important in raising awareness!

  2. I too wish it were different! My Down Syndrome dd at 4 with the cognition of a 18 month old was separated from me for a thorough pat down because she has a pacemaker. She struggled, wouldn't cooperate with them and bolted into the huge terminal. Meantime I was seperated by glass, being told no, I cannot help her, and when she bolted no one stopped her! It wasn't until I bolted through without screening, that someone reacted! It was to chase ME down! We have had many things like this while flying over the years. Last time was finally a bit better bcs a guard believed me about our needs. But I was prepared for a verbal fight and for standing my ground.