TSA Transport Security Agency and Disability - an ongoing sequence of questionable practice?

Jul 28, 2008 - There are rumors that the TSA agents are respectlessly touching and undressing disabled people which embarasses them. Those rumors are probably true if one believes certain video footage that circulates on the Internet.

An ACA report that went into TSA screeners' issues addressed concerns previously as well. Nevertheless, issues continue.

Clearly we are not looking at a regulatory problem here. They changed regulations but to no avail. It is not hard to see why. The thing is, the same people that chose to impose their institutional authority onto others still work for the TSA as they always did. So in essence, the situation will remain problematic unless dramatic improvements as to monitoring and legal action are put in place. You can get TSA or other security personnel to illegally store screening footage, you can also get US army people to abuse prisoners and release video footage of that. In essence, sadists will seek out these positions and act out their urges until the very moment when they are physically stopped. Not all TSA employees will behave like that but it appears that too many of them do.

Until then, the far more interesting subject quite cleary is "Cool cars to rent and drive (instead of suffering TSA abuse)".

The security process requires the disabled person to insist on one thing themselves: we need to ask them for privacy. At that moment, the screening should be done in private.

Check the information guideline: TSA website / special needs

However, we all know real life can work out differently. It may be best to avoid travelling to the USA until they have resolved the current objectionable situation throughly, provenly, reportedly and completely.

Updates on this since I first published this:

Nov 13th, 2010 - A man runs into trouble when he refuses for TSA people to touch his genitalia. This is a very interesting story to read. It is particularly interesting to note that they tried to run after him, fine him with some ridiculous amount of money but let go nevertheless.

This is everything but safe practice. None of what the TSA or airport personnel has reportedly done is safe. They must put the checkpoints outside the perimeter of the airport so that people that opt out of the check/pat/scan process can leave untouched without posing any risk to the operation of the airport. Of course it is offensive to walk inside an airport with a weapon or explosives and anyone that does should be fined once they are found guilty of it - but if the people got there without getting checked, wouldn't that be the job of the TSA? Why is a person on the premises of an airport that could cause such harm? Wouldn't the TSA check that a bit earlier and further out from the gates / desks / luggage area? They sure don't know what they're doing. Any Swiss militia infantry soldier would know better than that.

Nov 18th 2010 - From Redstate.Com, we see this absolutely hilarious story that just shows what type of regulations the TSA has in place:

As the Chalk Leader for my flight home from Afghanistan, I witnessed the following:

When we were on our way back from Afghanistan, we flew out of Baghram Air Field. We went through customs at BAF, full body scanners (no groping), had all of our bags searched, the whole nine yards.

Our first stop was Shannon, Ireland to refuel. After that, we had to stop at Indianapolis, Indiana to drop off about 100 folks from the Indiana National Guard. That’s where the stupid started.

First, everyone was forced to get off the plane–even though the plane wasn’t refueling again. All 330 people got off that plane, rather than let the 100 people from the ING get off. We were filed from the plane to a holding area. No vending machines, no means of escape. Only a male/female latrine.

It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons. Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol. Oh, and our gunners had M-240B machine guns. Of course, the weapons weren’t loaded. And we had been cleared of all ammo well before we even got to customs at Baghram, then AGAIN at customs.

The TSA personnel at the airport seriously considered making us unload all of the baggage from the SECURE cargo hold to have it reinspected. Keep in mind, this cargo had been unpacked, inspected piece by piece by U.S. Customs officials, resealed and had bomb-sniffing dogs give it a one-hour run through. After two hours of sitting in this holding area, the TSA decided not to reinspect our Cargo–just to inspect us again: Soldiers on the way home from war, who had already been inspected, reinspected and kept in a SECURE holding area for 2 hours. Ok, whatever. So we lined up to go through security AGAIN.

This is probably another good time to remind you all that all of us were carrying actual assault rifles, and some of us were also carrying pistols.

So we’re in line, going through one at a time. One of our Soldiers had his Gerber multi-tool. TSA confiscated it. Kind of ridiculous, but it gets better. A few minutes later, a guy empties his pockets and has a pair of nail clippers. Nail clippers. TSA informs the Soldier that they’re going to confiscate his nail clippers. The conversation went something like this:

TSA Guy: You can’t take those on the plane.

Soldier: What? I’ve had them since we left country.

TSA Guy: You’re not suppose to have them.

Soldier: Why?

TSA Guy: They can be used as a weapon.

Soldier: [touches butt stock of the rifle] But this actually is a weapon. And I’m allowed to take it on.

TSA Guy: Yeah but you can’t use it to take over the plane. You don’t have bullets.

Soldier: And I can take over the plane with nail clippers?

TSA Guy: [awkward silence]

Me: Dude, just give him your damn nail clippers so we can get the f**k out of here. I’ll buy you a new set.

Soldier: [hands nail clippers to TSA guy, makes it through security]

This might be a good time to remind everyone that approximately 233 people re-boarded that plane with assault rifles, pistols, and machine guns–but nothing that could have been used as a weapon.

The TSA is not making things safe. They are just standing in the way. Very strange things happening there. For everyone to see.

Nov 16th 2010 - From VIMEO.COM (after the TSA had the full clip removed from Youtube and other places due to its outrageous nature):


If all you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail. And it'll teach the kid real well, won't it.

Nov 19th, 2010 - What got into them? The TSA finally attempts to improve things with these guidelines:

  • Security Officers will need to see and touch your prosthetic device, cast or support brace as part of the screening process. That is what was to be expected. Yet, from an external inspection point of view, inspecting it visually and having the removed prosthesis X-rayed offers a far better security. Touching it is nice but weird. It will definitely not make your result safer.
  • Security Officers will not ask nor require you to remove your prosthetic device, cast, or support brace. That is a big mistake. They do not know how much or how little residual limb I have. The remaining volume can be easily filled with anything whatsoever - from Apple Juice to sea salt in bags. Anything. You want to get that prosthesis and the liner removed and inspect all of it. Don't touch. But inspect all of it.
  • During the screening process, please do not remove or offer to remove your prosthetic device. The prosthesis should be removed and X-rayed each time.
  • You have the option of requesting a private screening at any time during the screening of your prosthetic device, cast or support brace. It is important to realize that this is a very private and very embarassing situation. Very much so.
  • You have the right to refuse the offer of a private screening; however, you will need to allow the screening to be conducted publicly if you wish to proceed beyond the security checkpoint. You don't get it. It is not a comfortable thing. Yet you should definitely get the prosthesis removed and visually check everything. Otherwise you can forget the rest as well.
  • You may have a companion, assistant or family member accompany and assist you into the private screening area (once he or she has been screened) and remain throughout the screening process. That may make it even worse.
  • TSA will make every effort to have two Security Officers of the same gender as the passenger being screened present during the private screening. I don't feel better when guys do it. Not the slightest bit.
  • If you are too weak or unstable on your feet to stand for a hand held metal inspection because of your prosthetic device, cast, or support brace, you may request to sit down after you have passed the walk through metal detector. Good, but that does not make it better either. If a leg comes off offering a seat is not just an act of politeness. It is an act of practicability.
  • Please notify Security Officers if you need assistance during the screening process such as a hand, arm, or shoulder to lean upon, or a chair in which to sit. At any time during the screening process you can request a disposable paper drape for privacy. I need a very clean if not disinfected surface to put down the prosthetic liner.
  • The Security Officer will describe the explosive trace sampling procedure in advance to help you along with the process. Well - if that is what they do why is the prosthesis not removed? I do not understand these people. I want to travel safely too.
  • The explosive trace sampling process may require you to lift or raise some of your clothing in order to obtain the explosive trace sample. (Sampling areas can be accessed by you lifting your pant leg or shirtsleeve or by raising your skirt to knee-level.) Don't worry. It will all be accessible.
  • The Security Officer should offer you a private screening if clothing will need to be lifted or raised in order to obtain the explosive trace sample. You will not be required to remove any clothing during the process or remove or display the belt that holds your prosthetic device to your body. Why not? It should be your job to examine these parts.
  • If the device alarms the explosive trace machine and the Security Officer cannot resolve the alarm, you will not be permitted through the security checkpoint. Damnit. Take the sucker off, scan it, pat it down. Wear sterile rubber gloves for your fingers or get insured for post scan infections - but by all means, examine things.

Currently, the most critical volume region is the socket inside. That is where an amputee could possibly stash stuff, depending on size and shape of socket a lot of it.

If I see that all the TSA does is create a lot of inefficient fuzz about a subject that would require full attention, I still don't think it is safe to fly to the USA, or fly within the USA, as long as such people "oversee" what they call "security".

But we have time to wait until they get it right. Give or take one or two decades and they may fix that. Maybe.

As the following reports indicate, the TSA may have guidelines out. But they don't work. Things are not better. Not a bit.

Nov 20th, 2010 - Right now, reports about TSA abusing travelers continue. From MSNBC:

A longtime Charlotte, N.C., flight attendant and cancer survivor told a local television station that she was forced to show her prosthetic breast during a pat-down.

Cathy Bossi, who works for U.S. Airways, said she received the pat-down after declining to do the full-body scan because of radiation concerns. The TSA screener "put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?' " Bossi told the station. "And I said, 'It's my prosthesis because I've had breast cancer.'

And she said, 'Well, you'll need to show me that.' " Bossi said she removed the prosthetic from her bra. She did not take the name of the agent, she said, "because it was just so horrific of an experience, I couldn't believe someone had done that to me. I'm a flight attendant. I was just trying to get to work."

For Americans who wear prosthetics — either because they are cancer survivors or have lost a limb — or who have undergone hip replacements or have a pacemaker, the humiliation of the TSA's new security procedures — choosing between a body scan or body search — is even worse. Musa Mayer has worn a breast prosthesis for 21 years since her mastectomy and is used to the alarms it sets off at airport security.

But nothing prepared her for the "invasive and embarrassing" experience of being patted down, poked and examined recently while passing through airport security at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

"I asked the supervisor if she realized that there are 3 million women who have had breast cancer in the U.S., many of whom wear breast prostheses. Will each of us now have to undergo this humiliating, time-consuming routine every time we pass through one of these new body scanners?" she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com.

'I was so humiliated'

Marlene McCarthy of Rhode Island said she went through the body scanner and was told by a TSA agent to step aside. In "full view of everyone," McCarthy said in an e-mail, the agent "immediately put the back of her hand on my right side chest and I explained I wore a prosthesis. "Then, she put her full hands ... one on top and one on the bottom of my 'breast' and moved the prosthesis left, right, up, down and said 'OK.' I was so humiliated. "I went to the desk area and complained," McCarthy wrote. "The woman there was very nice and I asked her if the training included an understanding of how prosthetics are captured on the scanner and told her the pat-down is embarrassing. She said, 'We have never even had that discussion and I do the training for the TSA employees here, following the standard manual provided.' She said she will bring it up at their next meeting." If she has to go through the scanner again, McCarthy said, "I am determined to put the prosthesis in the gray bucket," provided to travelers at the security check-ins for items such as jewelry. "Let the TSA scanners be embarrassed .... not me anymore!" she wrote. Sharon Kiss, 66, has a pacemaker, but also has to fly often for her work. "During a recent enhanced pat-down, a screener cupped my breasts and felt my genitals," she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com "To 'clear my waistband' she put her hands down my pants and groped for the waistband of my underwear. "I expressed humiliation and was told 'You have the choice not to fly.' " The remark infuriated Kiss, who lives in Mendocino, Calif. "Extrapolate this to we should not provide curb cuts and ramps for people confined to wheelchairs because they can choose to stay home ... This a violation of civil rights. And because I have a disability, I should not be subjected to what is government-sanctioned sexual assault in order to board a plane."

This proves that TSA guidelines are worth less than the value of the paper they were printed on. I was right by saying they had not figured anything out just yet yesterday (see above). And there is not much sweeter than to be able to say "I told you so".

Nov 21st, 2010 - on MSNBC, another TSA horror is reported:

A retired special education teacher on his way to a wedding in Orlando, Fla., said he was left humiliated, crying and covered with his own urine after an enhanced pat-down by TSA officers recently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

“I was absolutely humiliated, I couldn’t even speak,” said Thomas D. “Tom” Sawyer, 61, of Lansing, Mich.

Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach. “I have to wear special clothes and in order to mount the bag I have to seal a wafer to my stomach and then attach the bag. If the seal is broken, urine can leak all over my body and clothes.”

On Nov. 7, Sawyer said he went through the security scanner at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. “Evidently the scanner picked up on my urostomy bag, because I was chosen for a pat-down procedure.”

Due to his medical condition, Sawyer asked to be screened in private. “One officer looked at another, rolled his eyes and said that they really didn’t have any place to take me,” said Sawyer. “After I said again that I’d like privacy, they took me to an office.”

Sawyer wears pants two sizes too large in order to accommodate the medical equipment he wears. He’d taken off his belt to go through the scanner and once in the office with security personnel, his pants fell down around his ankles. “I had to ask twice if it was OK to pull up my shorts,” said Sawyer, “And every time I tried to tell them about my medical condition, they said they didn’t need to know about that.”

Before starting the enhanced pat-down procedure, a security officer did tell him what they were going to do and how they were going to it, but Sawyer said it wasn’t until they asked him to remove his sweatshirt and saw his urostomy bag that they asked any questions about his medical condition.

“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.” If you read my above comments regarding prosthetic arm you will understand that any halfways normal TSA agent or other person will want to look and see, visually understand, before patting - so it is necessary to remove clothes for that. It is absolutely mandatory that people with understanding, feeling and brains do that. Obviously and unfortunately, and reading through all this, that is not the TSA.

The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.” The TSA people do have a very clear sadistic attitude. Prove to me it is otherwise, and I will retract the statement - but we do need to see that in writing and the points of concern have to be addressed beyond reasonable doubt.

Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.

“I am totally appalled by the fact that agents that are performing these pat-downs have so little concern for people with medical conditions,” said Sawyer.

Sawyer completed his trip and had no problems with the security procedures at the Orlando International Airport on his journey back home. He said he plans to file a formal complaint with the TSA.

When he does, said TSA spokesperson Dwayne Baird, “We will review the matter and take appropriate action if necessary.” If necessary? Yeah, maybe they find that exploding these bags and putting urine onto the traveller is absolutely normal ingredient of daily life. Then any further action is not "necessary".

In the meantime, Baird encourages anyone with a medical condition to read the TSA’s website section on assistive devices and mobility aids.

The website says that travelers with disabilities and medical conditions have “the option of requesting a private screening” and that security officers “will not ask nor require you to remove your prosthetic device, cast, or support brace.”

Sawyer said he's written to his senators, state representatives and the president of the United States. He’s also shared details of the incident online with members of the nonprofit Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, many of whom have offered support and shared their travel experiences.

“I am a good American and I want safety for all passengers as much as the next person," Sawyer said. "But if this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”

Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network executive director Claire Saxton said that there are hundreds of thousands of people living with ostomies in the United States. “TSA agents need to be trained to listen when someone tells them have a health issue and trained in knowing what an ostomy is. No one living with an ostomy should be afraid of flying because they’re afraid of being humiliated at the checkpoint.”

Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Association, which works with businesses and the disability community, called what happened to Sawyer “unfortunate.”

“But enhanced pat-downs are not a new issue for people with disabilities who travel," Lipp said. "They've always had trouble getting through the security checkpoint."

Still, Lipp said the TSA knows there’s a problem. “This came up during a recent meeting of the agency’s disability advisory board and I expect to see a procedure coming in place shortly that will directly address the pat-down procedures for people with disabilities.”

It does make sense to drive. And to avoid flying at all cost.

As far as the greater Zurich region is concerned I know am mobile with a car that reaches well up north to Hamburg and further, surely to Berlin, and all the way south to France, Italy and further. The current stream of news is indicative of humiliation and sadism. As in other regimes of that kind, it may be good to be mentally present, but far better to be physically absent.

Stay away from the USA if you can. Do whatever you must if you can't. Good luck.

Nov 21st 2010 - Young boy strip searched in public by TSA

Told ya they weren't any better.

Bottom line

  • To make an airport safer, security checks must be conducted outside the premises. Far enough outside so people that opt out can leave without security risk to the airport.
  • To examine a person, one always needs to see before patting / touching. Always. If damages occur by not visually inspecting before patting or touching, a full compensation must be available by law to the traveler. It should be inflicted on the guilty TSA agent.
  • To take off medical devices requires a very clean environment. Unless that is there, taking off medical devices is unsafe. At that point, legislation must allow the traveler to sue the TSA agent personally.
  • To check prostheses, a look inside and throughout the prosthesis is required. This is extremely sensitive procedure. If this is not done properly, unchecked volume regions will pass on to the aircraft. This means that enough space, proper rooms, proper scanners to avoid humiliation and contamination are mandatory. Everything else won't work.
  • Unless these are in place and reported to be carried out politely, respectfully and correctly, flying is not safe (as TSA omits checking for relevant areas) and checks are needlessly humiliating. Then, it is safer and far more relaxing to drive. Or fly outside the TSA's circle of influence :)

Cool cars to rent

Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: swisswuff.ch - TSA Transport Security Agency and Disability - an ongoing sequence of questionable practice?; published 21/11/2010, 10:36; URL: https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=29.

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1653027812, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{swisswuff.ch - TSA Transport Security Agency and Disability - an ongoing sequence of questionable practice?}}, month = {November}, year = {2010}, url = {https://www.swisswuff.ch/tech/?p=29} }