Blind Leader Threatens Blocked Runways In Battle With Airlines
Sep. 02, 1987
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The president of the National Federation of the Blind told a federal panel Wednesday that the blind are ready to use ''every morally justifiable means'' to end discrimination by the airlines, including blocking runways.
''Should he blind lie down on the runways in front of the planes?'' Marc Maurer, president of the federation, asked a committee weighing rules to prevent discrimination against the handicapped by airlines. ''That is a question that the behavior of the airlines themselves will answer.''
Maurer and other blind people who addressed the board focused their complaints on policies many airlines have of prohibiting them from sitting near emergency exits, a practice the carriers say is based on safety concerns.
The blind, however, argued that they are as capable of opening an emergency door and assisting in an evacuation as people with sight. They also objected to what they said can be condescending treatment by airline employees and needless demands, such as that they use a wheelchair while boarding.
''What the blind want most is simple, straightforward, uncomplicated and reasonable,'' Maurer said. ''We want to be left alone to buy our tickets and fly in peace.''
Under a law enacted last year, a government panel is preparing to write regulations that would ensure that air carriers do not discriminate against disabled passengers. The 15-member committee, which has been holding hearings and meetings since June, consists of representatives of government, various segments of the airline industry and handicapped groups. The panel hopes to complete proposed regulations by early November.
Maurer was the most militant of the five blind people who addressed the panel Wednesday morning, saying, ''We intend to use every morally justifiable means at our disposal ... including, if necessary ... whatever amount of ugly and direct confrontation it takes.''
His remarks drew pointed questions from air industry members of the panel, who asked Maurer if he believed blind people could deal with fuel fires or improperly positioned escape chutes as well as people who can see. Maurer insisted that they could.
Paul Bollinger, a board member representing the owners and operators of the nation's airports, chided Maurer for mentioning the blocking of runways.
Referring to Maurer's former job as an attorney for the defunct Civil Aeronautics Board, Bollinger told him, ''Possibly ... you may have forgotten that to address one's grievances, you don't necessarily stomp on the rights of others.''
Maurer said later that for blind people, the question of sitting near an emergency exit is one of principle.
''It doesn't matter to me at all whether I sit in the exit row,'' he told the committee. ''But it does matter that I'm classified as a human being with less ability than others.''
Other blind people who addressed the panel told of what they called mistreatment by airlines, including being arrested for refusing to leave seats near emergency exits.
''We need no regulations,'' said Diane McGeorge of Denver. ''All we need is equal treatment.''