ACA report faults TSA's treatment of amputees

From scattered news blurbs, I did get the gut feeling that it was a rather good idea to stay away from the USA - until they solved some of their domestic problems.

I mean, we all along knew there were and continue to be a whole list of incidents that highlight clear abuse that some TSA guys played out on some folks, some of them with medical or orthopedic situations, including amputee travelers.

As traveler on USA airports, you have next to no legal rights. With the US patriot act, one can be detained for years or decades without any charge or legal rights either. This does sound extremely difficult and unsympathetic.

One generally is at the mercy of people such as these:

Jan. 3, 2010: A TSA agent was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for behaving erratically. The guard had just gotten off duty and was heard saying, "I am god, I’m in charge."

Jan. 6, 2010: An internal investigation discovered that four LAX TSA agents used drugs at an after-hours party. All four were tested for drugs and one came back positive. That employee was fired.

Jan. 7, 2010: Video showed that a Newark Liberty International Airport screener allowed a man to bypass a security checkpoint and enter a terminal to see his girlfriend. The move forced passengers to clear the terminal and reenter the screening process. The guard was disciplined and back on the job by March.

Jan. 22, 2010: A screener lost his job after pretending to plant a plastic bag of white powder in the carry-on luggage of a passenger at the Philadelphia International Airport. A spokeswoman called the behavior "highly inappropriate and unprofessional."

Jan. 28, 2010: The screener was put on desk duty after she wasphotographed sleeping in plain sight at LaGuardia Airport.

Seems like my gut feeling was right (see below).  So, until the Americans resolved their attitude issues, I figured it was probably safe to stay away as much as possible, give my money to other holiday destinations and keep following the news.

The Senate confirmed John Pistole as head of the Transportation Security Administration on Friday, and though his top priority will be the security of passengers and cargo, he'll also have to buck up an agency reeling from a series of embarrassing incidents in recent months.

There are also fresh concerns about how airport screeners check amputees who pass through airport security. A new survey by theAmputee Coalition of America finds that transportation security officers often appear confused about how to screen amputees and inconsistently enforce agency procedures regarding disabled air passengers.

Three out of four people surveyed said they were unsatisfied with their most recent airport security experience. Respondents said that they were not screened by TSA agents of the same gender and that officers often did not let them have a caretaker accompany them into screening rooms. About half of the respondents said they had to lift their clothing during random checks for explosives, and the survey recounted reports of an amputee facing 15 X-rays to get through the screening process.

“We respect that TSA’s job is to protect our skies, but the lack of training and inconsistent practices in dealing with travelers with limb loss is unacceptable,” said ACA President Kendra Calhoun. The group surveyed 7,300 amputees, out of about 1.7 million in the United States.

“We recognize there are many TSA employees who are doing outstanding jobs with amputee screenings, but clearly our survey data shows there is a lot of room for overall improvement by TSA," Calhoun said.

TSA spokesman Greg Soule said, "While TSA’s number one priority is security, we also strive to treat all passengers with dignity and respect."

Officers receive extensive training on how to respectfully screen all passengers, and the agency investigates all claims that officers did not follow proper procedures, Soule said. Officers are instructed to take amputees to a private area if they require further screening. They must also thoroughly explain the screening procedures before they are performed, including how and where the passengers may be touched.

"Under no circumstances is it TSA’s policy to ask a passenger to remove his/her prosthetic during screening," Soule said in an e-mail. "TSA’s procedures do specifically provide for people with disabilities to have a personal assistant accompany them regardless of whether they are screening in the main area or private screening room."

The agency has published tips for disabled travelers and is working with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other organizations to learn more about prosthetics and how they're affected by the TSA's advanced imaging technology.

Survey Results Show Lack of Awareness for Disability Population

Knoxville, TN, June 23, 2010 – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) needs to clean up its act when it comes to airport security screenings for people with limb loss according to the Amputee Coalition of America. Results of a survey of 7,300 amputees released this week showed that travelers with limb loss have been subjected to inconsistent, unfair, abusive and often embarrassing screenings by TSA employees.

“We respect that TSA’s job is to protect our skies, but the lack of training and inconsistent practices in dealing with travelers with limb loss is unacceptable,” said Kendra Calhoun, president & CEO of the Amputee Coalition of America. “We are disappointed to learn about amputees who have been required to take off their arms and legs, expose their amputated limbs and give up equipment required for their prosthetic legs. We recognize there are many TSA employees who are doing outstanding jobs with amputee screenings, but clearly our survey data shows there is a lot of room for overall improvement by TSA.”

The Amputee Coalition of America survey found:

  • TSA agents are often confused about how to manage screening prosthetic arms and legs.
  • Amputees are often denied the ability to have their caregivers accompany them into screening rooms.
  • Amputees report being screened by TSA agents not of the same gender.
  • 75 percent of respondents said they were unsatisfied with their most recent TSA experience.
  • 50 percent said they were required to lift or raise their clothing during a procedure called “explosive trace sampling” with no explanation given by TSA personnel.
  • More than half of the amputees who responded indicated TSA personnel exhibited a lack of training relative to disability populations –namely, amputees.

Respondents are 70 percent less likely to travel by commercial airline due to negative experiences with TSA personnel. (Each year, 21 million Americans with disabilities spend $13.6 billion on travel, according to research conducted by the Open Doors Organization. People with limb loss comprise 10 percent of the disability population in the U.S., a number that is expected to rise due to the diabetes epidemic [Ziegler-Graham et al., 2008. “Estimating the Prevalence of Limb Loss in the United States: 2005 to 2050.” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Vol 89. P. 422-429].)

Peggy, an amputee who lives in Gainesville, Virginia, echoes these survey results in her personal experience, where she was instructed to remove her prosthetic leg and liner, exposing her bare residual limb. Jeff, a medical doctor who lives in Denver, Colorado, also had an experience where TSA agents confiscated equipment he needs to put on his legs – he’s a bilateral amputee. Leslie, an attorney and lower-extremity amputee who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was required by TSA agents to stand on stacked plastic crates for multiple x-rays.

“Amputees have reported to us that there are different procedures at different airports and sometimes different procedures at the same airport, depending on when you fly,” said Calhoun. “We have gotten reports of more than 15 X-rays being taken for an amputee to get through the TSA screening. We want our skies to be safe, but there has to be a better way than the approach TSA is using. We need better training for TSA staff in dealing with disability populations.”

About the Amputee Coalition of America

The Amputee Coalition, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is “to reach out to and empower people affected by limb loss to achieve their full potential through education, support and advocacy, and to promote limb loss prevention.” For more information about limb loss, please visit the Amputee Coalition Web site at or call 888/267-5669.


For interviews with Kendra Calhoun or any of the amputees below, contact Melanie Staten at 888/267-5669.

Peggy, from Gainesville, Virginia, lower-extremity amputee

“I had just been put in the plexiglass screening booth which I expected,” said Peggy. “My 4-year-old son was made to sit across from me, crying because they would not let him touch me. Everyone was looking at us. Then the TSA agent asked for my prosthetic leg. I knew they could wand my leg, but he insisted on taking it from me. And if that wasn’t humiliating enough, he asked for the liner sock that covers my residual limb, saying I had to give it to him. I felt pressured to give him my liner even though it is critical to keep it sanitary. I was embarrassed to have my residual limb exposed in public.”

Jeff, from Denver, Colorado, bilateral amputee, physician, pilot and member of the Amputee Coalition of America’s Board of Directors

“TSA confiscated my vacuum system required to fit my prosthetic legs. I told them I need those tools to put on my legs. Without them, it can’t be done. They eventually gave them back after I boarded the plane, but it would have been more appropriate to have a conversation with me about it and let me know. Had they not given the tools back, I could not have put on my legs for my entire trip. This was the worst of my many TSA experiences, but because I fly a lot, I am also concerned about the level of radiation to which I am exposed. I have had as many as 20 exposures during one trip.”

Leslie from Minneapolis, Minnesota, lower-extremity amputee, attorney and nurse

“While I consider myself a seasoned amputee traveler, my situation brought me to tears for the inequity that I experienced because of having a prosthetic leg. I was led to a small room without being told where I was going and my husband wasn’t allowed to accompany me. Ten X-rays were taken of my leg, so I was concerned and inquired about the amount of radiation, but was given no answers. The TSA screeners made me stand on six unsecured, stacked storage bins. I told them it wasn’t safe - I only have one leg.”

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Cite this article:
Wolf Schweitzer: Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - ACA report faults TSA's treatment of amputees; published 30/06/2010, 19:07; URL:

BibTeX: @MISC{schweitzer_wolf_1602932972, author = {Wolf Schweitzer}, title = {{Technical Below Elbow Amputee Issues - ACA report faults TSA's treatment of amputees}}, month = {June},year = {2010}, url = {}}