TSA Airport Security Screeners Disregard Procedures, Safety and Respect for Amputees

Amputee News

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.”

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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