Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blind man told to give up his white cane on American Airlines flight

From KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh:

PITTSBURGH -- A blind man was told if he tried to use his cane he'd be removed from a flight and arrested and now he's asking for an apology.

Bill Diamond (pictured) is legally blind and sees nothing from his left eye and shadows from his right eye. He lost his sight 15 years ago due to diabetes.

He's a Navy veteran and spent 13 years in the service. It was on a recent trip to a special veterans school in Chicago to learn how to use a talking computer where he ran into real trouble on an American Airlines flight.

"American Airlines just wants customers who can see – it's not going to be a burden to them," he said. "Anybody with a disability is going to be a burden to American Airlines."

Diamond caught his flight to Chicago out of Pittsburgh. He was brought to the plane in a wheelchair. He got on board using his cane and was told he had to give it up even though it was folded up.

"I says, 'I need my cane.'

"She goes, 'Sir, if you refuse to give up your cane, I will have no alternative but to call security,'" Diamond recalled.

Faced with possible arrest, Diamond gave up the cane, sat on a nearly two-hour flight unable to get up and move around even though he needed to use the bathroom.

"The stewardess acted like, 'Oh no, not another disabled person on my flight,'" he said.

On his way back from Chicago, Diamond flew United. They had no problem with his cane. He used it to get to the men's room. He says it gave him his dignity back and his freedom.

"That's my independence, that's my mode of travel, that's how I learned to travel being visually impaired," Diamond said. "They're taking something from me that I've learned to use."

KDKA's Marty Griffin spoke with American Airlines Oct. 18. They said they were investigating the matter and offered no further comment.

Griffin could find no evidence indicating the use of a folding cane on a flight is determined to be against the policy of any airline.