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Blind Woman Refuses to Leave Seat Next to Plane’s Emergency Exit

May 20, 1986

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) _ A blind woman who sat next to an emergency exit of a commuter plane refused to move Monday night, and the airline canceled the flight, officials said.

Mary Ellen Reihing, assistant director of job opportunities for the blind for the National Federation of the Blind, refused to move for about 2 1/2 hours, said Ed McCusker, general manager of Piedmont Commuter.

Piedmont officials said its regulations prohit blind people from sitting next to emergency exits. Airlines maintain that children, blind people and others whose movement may be slow could pose a safety hazard if emergency exits had to be opened quickly.

″It’s a pure judgment call on our part to provide for the safety of our passengers,″ McCusker said.

Ms. Reihing contends that such regulations discriminate against the handicapped.

The 19-seat plane was scheduled to depart Youngstown Municipal Airport for Baltimore at 6:25 p.m. but was canceled about 9 p.m. About six other people were on the plane, McCuster said.

Ms. Reihing was in Youngstown for a banquet of the federation’s local chapter.

In a similar incident in November 1984, Judith Sanders of Minneapolis was arrested for refusing to give up her seat near an emergency exit on a People Express flight.

A judge later dismissed the disorderly conduct charge against her. Mrs. Sanders also contended that the rule discriminates against the handicapped.

In February 1985, about 30 members of the federation stalled a USAir flight departure from Washington for about 30 minutes by crowding around an exit gate to protest a similar seating policy.

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