[nfbwatlk] deepening our understanding and resolve about treatment of blind people by airline personnel

Mike Freeman k7uij at panix.com
Thu Mar 26 18:20:44 UTC 2015

Mary Ellen:

I agree that all who have participated in this thread have had useful things
to contribute. That's the beauty of these lists.

I'm not as certain as you appear to be, however, that "power-tripping" plays
as great a role in these incidents as you believe. Rather, I see one of the
principal elements driving airline behavior is the wish to pidgeon-hole
everyone into categories, each of which has prescribed ways for airlines to
deal with issues affecting them. This minimizes, so the thinking goes, the
necessity for airline personnel to think independently, thus possibly making
mistakes and/or bringing on lawsuits.

I also am beginning to suspect that educating airline personnel, while still
the ideal, is not going to work due to the rapid turnover in airline
personnel these days. I suspect we're going to have to come up with
strategies that make it prohibitively costly for airlines to allow
despicable behavior such as we're discussing here. I confess I haven't a
clue what these strategies would look like, though.


-----Original Message-----
From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Mary ellen
via nfbwatlk
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2015 10:42 AM
To: 'Arielle Silverman'; 'NFB of Washington Talk Mailing List'
Subject: [nfbwatlk] deepening our understanding and resolve about treatment
of blind people by airline personnel


I understand and largely agree with your premise that knowing the
motivations and thought processes behind discriminatory behavior can help us
redirect or combat it more effectively.  I also would prefer not to be in
conflict situations whenever possible.  I believe, despite our willingness
to engage in conflict when we must, the NFB operates under the premise that
knowledge is power and mutual understanding is more likely to resolve
problems than mutual fear and distrust.

I believe you have correctly described the motivation of some people who
work for the airlines.  I also believe that power tripping plays more than a
small role in their behavior.  No matter what motivates them, we need to
find a way to travel with dignity and respect.  Admittedly, nobody else who
travels on airplanes these days feels particularly respected.  Nevertheless,
the goal is worthwhile and it may be that blind people will lead the rest of
the country to a more balanced relationship between genuine safety concerns
and paranoia.

I sense that nobody on this list intended to be disrespectful.  Therefore
I've changed the subject line of this message because we are striving for a
deeper understanding of how practically to resolve an issue that affects us

I was around in 1978 when the "cane wars" started.  I saw people who use
guide dogs being arbitrarily moved to bulkhead seats.  I've been threatened
with arrest because I was unwilling to sit in a window seat and agree in
advance that I would be the last person off the plane in an emergency.  In
the December, 1987, Monitor there is a list of things I personally have been
told, inaccurately, were federal regulations.

All this is to point out that the culture, both generally in the country and
within the NFB, has changed with respect to how individual rights and safety
are perceived by airlines.  September 11, 2001, and its aftermath have
created a much more volatile and complex situation.

The safety fearful public may be less willing to listen to our issue.  It
may also be that all the people who have felt bullied and disrespected by
the airlines (and that's just about everybody) will say to us, "You go for

Knowing how to proceed will take thought and discussion.  I think everybody
who has participated in this thread has added to that thought and

-----Original Message-----
From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Arielle
Silverman via nfbwatlk
Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2015 9:57 AM
To: Mike Freeman
Cc: NFB of Washington Talk Mailing List
Subject: Re: [nfbwatlk] An Apology

Hi Mike and all,
As you read my response, please understand that I am trained as a social
psychologist, and social psychology is the study of why people interact the
way they do. Much of social psychology attempts to understand why people
discriminate against groups of people. The philosophy is that the more we
can explain human behavior, the better we can predict and control human
behavior. I chose this field of study and work because I believe that
knowledge is power, and that it is possible to analyze any situation in
order to improve it in a strategic way. In fact, social psychology really
blossomed as a discipline after social scientists became motivated to try to
understand why the Holocaust happened. The Nazi regime, eugenics, etc.
was incredibly rational. Incredibly immoral and unjust, but still, a cold,
calculating approach to optimizing society. Most of the discrimination we
face, too, can be traced to rational reasons, even if those reasons are
unjust or immoral.
When people discriminate against us, it is usually because they have some
other goal or value they want to defend, and they see our rights as being in
conflict with their goal. On airplanes, the goal is safety. Flight
attendants and crews are obligated to make sure the plane doesn't go down.
They are under a lot of time pressure. When people are in these high-stakes
situations, they tend to rely on stereotypes because stereotypes are easy,
quick-and-dirty tricks we can use to classify people as threatening or
non-threatening. If flight crew members have a stereotype that blind people
aren't able to evacuate, handle the exit row or that their canes are
dangerous, they will rely on this stereotype because they don't want to take
any chances. The stereotype is wrong, but it's still rational.
Stereotyping also explains the high incidence of racial profiling in air
travel. It is a huge moral problem, but we need to understand why it happens
in order to find a solution. Also, when we get on a plane, the flight
attendants might not remember what their training told them about how to
handle disabled passengers. The cool ones will just defer to us to request
any accommodations we may need, but others will be so concerned about
covering all the safety bases that they may rush to take our canes or give
us special briefings or whatever they think in the moment that they need to
do. Then, if we try to defend ourselves against having our canes taken, they
interpret this as being a security threat because, again, safety is their
top priority. I'm not sure what the solution to these airline issues is. A
lot probably involves improving the training process for crew members. But
instead of just villainizing the airlines, I think it would be more
productive if we at least tried to understand where they are coming from and
what their goals are.
In general, though we face a lot of discrimination in society, I think it
rarely comes from cold-blooded hate toward blind people. Usually there's
some other goal or concern that people see as being in conflict with our
rights. In the case of guide dog access, it may be public health concerns.
In the case of website inaccessibility, it may be the fear that redesigning
the site would be too costly. In the case of accessible standardized
testing, test makers may think accessibility would compromise the integrity
of the test. These are all rational concerns, even though they are often
Whatever it is, I think we would be stronger as an organization if we
listened to these concerns and worked to debunk them, instead of just
rushing to litigation and legal pressure. I do believe that for the most
part, we as an organization do a good job of talking to folks and weighing
the whole situation. But it concerns me when sometimes our members criticize
an entity without attempting to understand why it is acting the way it is
toward blind people. It doesn't mean we compromise our rights. It just means
we find a way to convince these entities that they can have the things they
want while also supporting our full participation.
Best, Arielle

On 3/26/15, Mike Freeman <k7uij at panix.com> wrote:
> Arielle:
> Question: How can we understand both sides of a situation when one 
> side is essentially irrational, i.e., not susceptible of analysis?
> Mike Freeman
> -----Original Message-----
> From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of 
> Arielle Silverman via nfbwatlk
> Sent: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 8:57 PM
> To: nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org
> Subject: [nfbwatlk] An Apology
> Hi Sushil,
> I want to apologize to you on list for my comments I made about your 
> incident with Alaska Airlines. Reading over them again, I think I came 
> across as being a lot more harsh than I intended, especially since I 
> don't think we've met. I'm sorry for any hurt my comments may have caused.
> Even though we haven't met, I always believed you were telling the 
> truth about what happened and I never thought you were leaving out any 
> facts. My reaction was more coming from my surprise and confusion 
> about why the incident happened. When I said I thought we don't know 
> all the information, I was referring to more subtle things that might 
> have gone down in your conversation with the airline staff, like your 
> body language and Byron's, that could have caused it to escalate. In 
> general, I like to try to figure out both sides of a situation if I 
> can. I think we as an organization can target discrimination more 
> effectively when we can figure out the other party's reasons for 
> discriminating. Even when those reasons aren't valid, it's helpful for 
> us to know the discriminator's motives so we can plan a strategic 
> defense. Sometimes, knowing their motives can lead to a compromise 
> solution.
> I experienced airline discrimination a few months ago (though not as 
> serious as your case) so I empathize with your situation and I do 
> support you in any action you may choose to take. In my case, the 
> flight attendant who reseated me eventually apologized and admitted 
> that he made a mistake and misinterpreted the regs aboutwhere blind 
> people can sit. I hope you are able to reach a satisfactory settlement 
> with the airline. Again, I am sorry that my empathy and support 
> probably didn't come through in my first response to this thread.
> Best, Arielle
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