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did not have that problem as blind people, but others did have it. The problem was real, but basically the FAA gave up on that task in 1977 by issuing a mandate to the air carriers to carry the handicapped under a heading called "Authority to Refuse Transportation.” That is a positive approach.
The real problem with the FAA rule, or purported rule, is that it delegated to the airlines the problem of creating nondiscrimination procedures. But the airlines should be the target of procedures. Many have created discriminatory policies.
Similarly, the CAB has failed to make comprehensive prohibition against air travel discrimination based on handicapped. Only subsidized air routes are covered and only to a limited extent under the authority of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
But such problems of inadequate legal protections are not just found in air travel. Places of public accommodation, amusement, restaurants, and the like are, with few exceptions, totally exempt from any Federal jurisdiction.
Inadequate Federal policy and fragmented laws often lead to confusion, tension, and sometimes to acts of downright hostility. I have included three examples in my written statement.
The Michael Hingson story illustrates the unyielding arbitrariness which we frequently encounter with representatives of the travel industry. They view as omnipotent their power to serve us on their terms, even when the service to be provided on their terms might be unreasonable and detrimental; hence, discriminatory.
In this case, many of the major air carriers have unrestricted seating policies for blind persons using dog guides. There is no justifiable reason for a restricted seating policy. Mr. Hingson preferred another seat. Other seats were available. Yet the representatives of Pacific Southwest Airlines wouldn't let him fly; all of the bulkhead seats were taken.
Then when Mr. Hingson sought other seating, which was his right to do, the agents physically abused and restrained him. Our appeals to the legal process have failed to resolve satisfactorily this situation.
Donna Yates' experience with the Costa Cruise Lines shows how people tend to overgeneralize about others they regard as handicapped. They thought that the ship was not built to accommodate Donna, but blindness does not require accommodation of the sort they had in mind. They thought she would need an attendant, but Donna, like the rest of us, is capable of attending to herself, thank you. Not all of the handicapped need attendants. Fortunately, in that case we had a State law in New York State. Donna sailed, but only after a 2-year battle to win her right to do so.
The flight insurance problem is another example of how discrimination is an absolutely irrational act. Is the life of a blind man less valuable than that of his sighted wife? According to that insurance company, apparently it was less valuable, but of course it is not less valuable. The Tele-Trip Co., would sell him only $20,000 of life insurance, and her $325,000.
The public protest that followed that particular incident brought a change in the policy, but only voluntarily.
Mr. Chairman, these incidents and the underlying social problems they represent could be multiplied many fold. You don't have time to hear about them. It is time, though, for Congress to begin to fashion a comprehensive consistent universally applicable and clear Federal policy to assure that we can travel and use public accommodations in our country on the same terms and conditions as other people. The need for such a policy is clear, and the time to begin work on it is now.
lvational Federation of the Blind Testimony
Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Transporation, and Tourism,
Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind.
My address is 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
appreciate the opportunity you have extended to me to appear
before this Subcommittee, today, to present the views of the
National Federation of the Blind on the current status of travel
policies and practices which affect us.
Mr. Chairman, I will begin this testimony with a word or two
to describe the nature of our organization and its character as
the representative voice of our nation's one-half million blind
The National Federation of the Blind is first and
foremost a membership organization of blind persons.
the Federation through local chapters and state affiliates found
in every state and most sizable population areas, including the
District of Columbia.
We are the blind speaking for ourselves.
In 1940, the blind organized the National Federation of the
Blind to provide a vehicle for self-expression and self
We needed such an instrument because there were
many agencies of government and otherwise who were seeking to
protect and custodialize the blind, even to the extent of
attempting to become our self-appointed spokesmen.
agencies, however, could legitimately speak only for themselves
and not for the blind they sought to represent.
Today, in the
democratic spirit, we, the blind, are organized to speak for
We have put an end to the era when others could
Now we have our own collective voice--the voice of
the nation's blind.
Today we are here to discuss travel policy.
This is an area
of social interaction and commerce which has received much
attention by our Federation over a period of several years. early as 1966--almost two decades ago--we launched a nationwide campaign to eradicate discrimination against the blind, the
visually impaired, and the otherwise physically disabled in the
use of public buildings, public facilities, public
accommodations, transporation systems, housing, and so on.
designed a model statute known commonly as the White Cane Law.
We sought its enactment by the legislatures of the several
Today these mandates for nondiscrimination are found in
the statute books of more than half the states.
But, all is not
well and all issues are clearly not settled.
Especially this is
true at the federal level, in the area of interstate commerce.
Thus, we come before this Subcommittee of the Congress today.
I doubt that anyone serving on this Subcommittee, or for
that matter that members in the United States Congress as
would disagree with the premise that our nation's travel and
tourism policies should emphasize the right of all of our
citizens--sighted and blind, disabled or not disabled--to have
free movement throughout our country and equal opportunity to be
served by common carriers and places of public accommodation. So, let us begin by agreeing upon this general principle and move from there to nail down some of the particulars.
Some representatives who will appear before this
Subcommittee will, undoubtedly, testify to difficulties they may
have with architectural or physical design barriers found in
facilities and structures used in the transporation and travel
But, there is a widespread myth that all persons
classified as handicapped are impeded by these barriers.
This is a critical point to remember as you begin to analyze
and learn about the problems faced by the disabled in using
public conveyances and facilities.
Although great attention has
been paid to the controversy swirling around the removal of
architectural barriers and the extent to which all of us as
taxpayers bear the responsibility to pay for this, the greatest
issue of accessibility and equal treatment for the disabled is a
matter of attitude, not bricks and mortar.
I speak of the
barriers of ignorance and misconception--the failure of many in
our society today to understand the true abilities (not the
disabilities) of those they call the handicapped. Barriers of attitude and myth can hardly be erased in a day, let alone a
But, the barriers can be forced to crumble. Unless we
begin sometime (and unless Congress backs this with proper laws
at the federal level) the changes in social attitudes which must
come will never be made.
We, in the National Federation of the Blind, have worked
hard to remove the barriers of ignorance and misconception.
specific purpose has been to lead our nation to a greater