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care for us is almost without exception the common motive.
acts of discrimination against the blind or handicapped are based
on raw hatred as sometimes may be the case with other minorities.
But combatting hatred would probably be easier than trying to
confront an overprotective and benevolent spirit. Nevertheless, we must do so if we are to gain our equal place in society.
difficulty we have in dealing with it in the absence of
The Michael Hingson story:
In September, 1980, Michael
Hingson, a young blind sales executive who works for an
internationally-known small computer firm was traveling in
California for purposes of marketing his company's products and continuing contacts with clients or former clients. Michael uses
a dog guide named Holland.
When he arrived in the boarding area
for his Pacific Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to San
Francisco, Hingson was advised by a gate agent that "blind
passengers with guide dogs must sit in bulkhead seats," and,
furthermore, that the bulkhead seats (six in all) were already
assigned to other passengers.
But, Mr. Hingson had not requested
a bulkhead seat, and he did not want one in the first place.
was unyielding--Hingson would sit in a bulkhead
PSA has frequent flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
so, realizing this, Mr. Hingson decided he would wait and attempt
to get a seat on the next PSA flight available.
There was open
So, when the time came,
Mr. Hingson, ticket in hand,
joined the line of other passengers and sought to enter the
He did so but found himself restrained by agents of
PSA who once again insisted that Hingson occupy a bulkhead seat.
This, he respectfully declined to do and attempted to move
seat more toward the middle or rear of the aircraft.
explained that his dog Holland would be more secure under one of
these seats than he would laying in the aisle at the bulkhead and
that furthermore he (Hingson) would be better able to do some
work in flight by using the drop-down table attached to the seat
The bulkhead was not suitable, and Hingson felt within
his rights to request any other seat that might be unassigned or
This was not to be.
The mood of the PSA representatives
In the altercation which followed (not precipitated
by Mr. Hingson) Mr. Hingson's arm was twisted behind his back,
his Braille watch was broken, and his dog guide was taken from
He was forceably removed from the aircraft and denied his
right to travel.
Why? Why was Mr. Hingson denied his right to fly?
and simple reason was
that he declined to sit in a bulkhead seat.
Upon examination of PSA's policies concerning air transportation
for the handicapped, we found that there was
no policy requiring
blind passengers to be seated in bulkhead seats.
opposite, according to one PSA representative--the guy who
developed the policies in the first place.
But, in subsequent
litigation which ensued, the airline has stubbornly defended the
actions of its agents, never mind what the policy says or what it
was intended to say.
The airline personnel "laid down the law"
and Michael Hingson was expected to obey it, without regard to
whether their orders had any rational basis, and even if the
as in this case, unreasonable and detrimental.
This example illustrates a kind of arbitrariness which we
face in travel and tourism today, because so often there are few
laws or regulations to govern the conduct of the industry.
Agents, representatives, and other personnel with whom we must
deal represent themselves as omnipotent--all powerful and all
Either we cooperate on their terms or we are not
Individual preference makes no difference.
handicapped are the handicapped.
We are all to be treated alike
regardless of circumstances. This is true in air travel as well
as other forms of transportation or public accommodations.
And they say there is no discrimination:
How about a
In the spring of 1981, Donna Yates, a young,
bright, and attractive well-trained blind woman paid her money
and signed up to take a Caribbean cruise.
That is where her
troubles began. The New York City booking agency (Singleworld) was glad to serve Donna. But under date of May 20, 1981, the
Costa Cruise Line who owned and operated the ship upon which
Donna intended to sail returned her payment, explaining that
neither the company nor any prospective cabinmate could bear the
responsibility for having to care for an unattended blind person
on board ship.
Donna required no care and wanted no
She was perfectly capable of attending to herself.
However, the idea that Donna was blind triggered images of
helplessness and dependency in the minds of Costa Cruise Lines
Under such circumstances, they felt perfectly
at ease returning Donna's money and refusing to book the cruise.
It was not a matter of discrimination.
To the cruise line
officials it was simple common sense--you do not accept an
unaccompanied blind person on board ship.
The ship isn't built
Whatever that means.
This is a clear illustration of how misconceptions and an
overgeneralization as to the needs of "the handicapped" can
result in acts of unreasonable and detrimental treatment.
matter of practical and provable fact (although I have not
personally inspected every cruise ship) there is simply no
sailing vessel built for the travelling public which cannot be
negotiated with safety by someone who is blind.
some handicapping conditions may well prevent travel in certain
areas on certain types of vessels.
This may be especially true
where steep stairways or narrow passages and doorways are
But, none of these or similar barriers is a matter of
concern to a blind person booking a cruise.
Donna Yates had paid
her money as was required of a prospective passenger, and she
rightfully expected to be treated like anyone else.
Denying her board would probably be killed.
was unreasonable and detrimental and thus the refusal constituted
discrimination on the basis of blindness.
But the incident had a happy ending as we were able to make
an appeal to the New York State Human Rights Agency.
investigators found probable cause for a judgment that the Costa
Cruise Line had violated the New York State Human Rights Act.
Then a settlement was eventually negotiated with the company.
Donna could take her cruise unhampered and unrestricted.
took a fight of nearly two years duration to do it.
illustrates the value of having protective legislation.
Discrimination against the blind which
sometimes occurs in travel insurance is among the most shocking
manifestations of unreasonable and detrimental treatment.
instance which came to light only a few years ago, the Mutual of
amount up to $325,000, but declined to sell her blind husband the
same insurance to cover him for any more than $20,000.
merely intended to sit there and ride along with all of the other
If the plane went down, God forbid, all for mostly all) on
It is doubtful that the tragedy
would have a greater impact upon a sighted passenger than on a
blind one or that the blind passenger would be more likely to
There is simply no evidence that blind people are greater