September 29, 2008

A Rocket Scientist Witnesses a Blind Man Being "Launched" from a Dragonair Flight

Dragonair logo

I was finishing up my presentation for the 2008 Universal Design in Airports Conference that will start next Tuesday in Chicago. I speak on a panel led by my colleague and Greek-Brazilian-American friend Gus Zografopoules. The topic is "Where do people with disabilities go to get information on flying?" I thought I had nailed down the content. I was looking forward to exploring one of the wheelchair accessible trails shown to me last weekend by folks from the San Francisco Bay Greenbelt Alliance. Then I saw Jim's blog.

Jim Fruchterman's blog at will now be front and center in my talk.

The Rolling Rains blog chronicles a small percentage of the stories on air travel and disability that are sent here (see below) but Jim's tale helps us illustrate what is sometimes overlooked.

Some violations are so egregious that reflection on their deeper meaning requires a cooling down period. The shock value of some stories evoke outrage. Jim's story documents classic nonviolent praxis in the face of injustice. He tells the story in a way that allows for some critical thinking even while the story itself is fresh.

Simon Darcy made an observation about the market dynamics of travelers with disabilities in his game-changing research entitled "From Anxiety to Access." He alerted the world that that we are very well networked and leverage a disproportionately large referral market.

That point didn't need to be made explicit when we reported on billionaire Sminu Jindahl's mistreatment by Jet Air. It seems rather obvious that a billionaire might have more socially beneficial things to do than argue about her competence to sit in an airline seat - and probably had an influential social network.

Jim's is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's premiere social entrepreneurial enterprises. It builds technological solutions for entrenched social problems with such products as a database for documenting (and prosecuting) human rights violations called Martus and their rapidly-expanding service for those who need audio books known as Bookshare. He speaks regularly to industry leaders at events including the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Perhaps it is true that "all publicity is good publicity" but If Dragonair had contracted me to produce a "short list" of people who they would definitely not want to witness abusive practices on their part Jim's name would be on it.

It was unfortunate that Rami Rabby, the first blind foreign service officer working for the US State Department, was thrown off their Dragonair flight from from Hong Kong to Fuzhou. Like Jim I applaud Rami for the courage of his convictions.

But Jim is being overly humble so I also want to recognize his everyday heroism of solidarity and citizen journalism. He could easily have argued that he had more pressing things to do (yes he is literally a rocket scientist by training) yet he stood by witnessing and documenting this act of all-too-common injustice. Thank you Jim from our entire global community

A select list of similar incidents endured by air travelers with disabilities:

Katrina Segundo-Casino on Cebu Airlines

Lori Mango on American Airlines

Michelle Daley on Air France

Chrsitine Wolf on Qantas

Deaf discrimination by Tiger Airways

Rajeev Rajan on SpiceJet, AirSahara, and JetLite

Adele price on Air France

Qantas Issues a 'Non Servium" to a 72 year old

Deaf culture's response to airline discrimination

"Sometimes your just seen as a piece of luggage."

What was my presentation topic again - "Where do people with disabilities go to get information on flying?"

Same answer/new meaning: We go to our friends.

Read more on Benetech's contributions to the world at:

Posted by rollingrains at September 29, 2008 07:40 PM