This blog has been on a little hiatus while we spent the summer hosting this awesome fundraiser, traveling around the world spreading the word of inclusion and generally getting our house in order for what is going to be a very busy fall and start to 2013. However, a news story like this one demands our attention.
You may have seen this in the news this week. A pilot who thought that his behavior would be a “flight risk” denied a 16-year old young man with Down syndrome access to a cross-country flight. This story, as conflicts usually are, is a little convoluted and confusing. How could a 16-year old boy seated in first class (his parents had paid for an upgrade at the airport kiosk) be a distraction to the pilot who is behind a sealed metal door?
There is nothing that went well in this story. My heart aches for the boy’s mother in the video she took using her cell phone as the agent tells her they are not allowed to board the flight. She is humiliated and sobbing and her son is seen in the background sitting quietly playing with his hat. My blood boils as I read that the Port Authority escorted the family out of the gate area, as the father was quoted as saying, “like criminals”. The response from the airline left a lot to be desired and as an advocate for families like the Vanderhorsts I wish this had been handled differently from start to finish.
But, instead of lashing out at the airline I would like to look at this as a learning opportunity. It is surprising that 22 years after the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act we are still working on how to ensure that people with disabilities are guaranteed equal access to places of public accommodation, but that’s the reality. People still don’t seem to know how to interact respectfully with families who have children with disabilities and differences in behavior and communication are still not accepted. This is exactly why Kids Included Together exists, to help communities learn to include everyone in a way that is respectful and honors and appreciates the inherent differences in the human race. I truly hope that the airline will deeply reflect, and then provide its staff some much needed training on serving all families. We have reached out to the airline to offer our support and customized training for their staff. This offer stands to any airline, or any other business that would like to improve their inclusive practice. Kids will only truly be included in their community, welcomed and valued as contributing members, when we dispel stereotypes, embrace differences and are willing to face our own biases.
I think this situation is complicated by the fact that the family purchased seats in first class, and I believe that had something to do with why they were denied boarding (and it wasn’t because of the potential to distract the pilot), but even so if people were able to be more accepting of differences this situation would have had a better outcome for everyone.