Calls for training following humiliating treatment of autistic child by airline staff

by L&D12 Apr 2016
LaShaunda Brown was on her way home to Maryland from Florida, after a family cruise to celebrate her son’s fifth birthday.

Brown typically arrives at airports four hours before the departure time just to help her autistic son feel comfortable.

It was then that a gate attendant at Southwest Airlines questioned her.

"The first question was 'Who’s the disabled passenger?'" said Brown.

"The next question was 'What’s his disability? What’s his issue?'"

Families dealing with autism have a lot on their plate without having their disability questioned in front of a crowd of other passengers, said Brown.

"They deserve to be treated fairly and they should not have to publicly disclose their disability prior to boarding a plane," Brown was quoted as saying by WUSA9.

When Brown arrived at her seat on the plane, she broke down in tears.

“I just started crying. I couldn’t stop," Brown said.

She added that the gate attendant apologised and explained that some families abuse pre-boarding.

Despite the airline offering her four $100 vouchers for future airline travel, what Brown really wants is for Southwest Airlines to train employees to be more sensitive to passengers and make sure this never happens again.

In response, Southwest Airlines said their Customer Advocacy Team is handling the complaint and that all employees who deal with customers have initial and annual disability awareness training. 

Meanwhile, the Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) and lawyer Chia Yong Yong has called on the Singaporean Government to launch a national education campaign to raise awareness of disabilities which are not immediately visible and obvious.

Chia has been wheelchair-bound after having been diagnosed with peroneal muscular atrophy as a teenager.

She acknowledged that the Government is doing some good things in Budget 2016 to help disabled people, but she also called on the Government to help them be given a chance to train and upgrade their skills, so they can work.

“Why do persons with disabilities still not feel included in our society? It cannot be that our people are not kind,” she was quoted as saying by Channel NewsAsia.

“Could it be that we have a lack of awareness? Could it be that there are disabilities not visible, or not perceived as disabilities?”

“Can we ask this House to be that platform to let our people know there are disabilities they cannot see, cannot perceive? Those are disabilities that are real and hurting.”