Carly Fleischmann is a 17-year-old author who has a form of autism that prevents her from speaking. Doctors said she would never intellectually develop beyond the abilities of a small child, but Carly eventually began using a computer to communicate and now carries an iPad with her so she can "talk" on the go.
Yesterday, a flight attendant asked Carly to put away her iPad before a flight, something she says had never happened before, even though she travels often for media and autism advocacy-related reasons. Carly explained that she needed it to communicate, but the fight attendant still insisted that she put it in the front of her seat, out of her reach, due to FAA regulations that require passengers to turn off electronic devices during take-off and landing.
After her flight, Carly voiced her anger and frustration to her tens of thousands of Facebook fans and Twitter followers. "My iPad to me is like a voice," she wrote on her Facebook page. "Can you imagine being on the airplane and being asked not to talk for over 25 minutes?" She also wrote a long note on American Airlines' Facebook page; over 100 people have added their own comments in response. Here's an excerpt:
The only answer this airline stewardess could give me was that it was against American airlines policy to have my iPad out. But I'm not like any other passenger. I have autism and my iPad acts as a augmentative devices that allows me to communicate and be heard. I use my iPad during security to ask for further instructions, I use my iPad well waiting for my airplane and ask the reception people when the flights going to take off, I use my iPad on the airplane to tell them if there's something wrong with my seat or my seatbelt or with the airplane. I am begging you as a active passenger on your flights to change your policy when it comes to dealing with people with autism and other special needs. Its time for you to move with the times and understand that a iPad is not just for fun it's for people who really need it too. I would love the opportunity and chance to speak to you and your employees and teach you all about autism and special things you can you do for people traveling with autism. There are more people now in days traveling with autism than ever before. I think it's time that your Airline and your policies change with the times. Don't you?
As Babble pointed out, the FAA recently said it would take another look at its position on the use of e-readers and tablets (like Kindles and iPads) on airplanes. "With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told the New York Times.
Should iPads be considered a "reasonable accommodation" under the Americans with Disabilities Act? Some airlines permit devices that help the disabled, like Air Canada, which says any device "that helps a passenger communicate (e.g. augmentative and alternate communication (AAC) device" are allowed at all times. Couldn't Carly have just put her iPad in Airplane Mode?
American Airlines has yet to respond, although they said in a comment on their Facebook page that they've communicated with Carly privately and are waiting to hear back from her. It'll be interesting to see what happens, because it doesn't seem like Carly's going to let the issue go; will she be able to pull off a feat even infamous "Words With Friends" fan Alec Baldwin couldn't accomplish?