For Colin Pitrowski, the San Francisco Airport is a continual nightmare. Gates are switched; he never finds out. He's paged but can't respond. Although the airport just completed a $84 million renovation, it did not bother with TTD machines, with visual boarding signs, with the numerous things it was required by law to do to make its airport accessible to deaf travelers like Pitrowski.
Deaf flyers say airport personnel refuse to write notes to communicate. Another deaf passenger was removed from a flight because she hadn't heard check-in personnel announce that all passengers were to come to the front of the line to be re-boarded.
Today Pitrowski and the Bay-area Deaf Counseling and Referral Agency filed a class-action lawsuit against San Francisco Airport charging it with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide access to deaf and hard-of-hearing travelers. It is believed to be the first suit of its type in the nation.
In December, 2000, the airport opened its new $84 million international terminal -- without the required text telephones, without visual boarding information, without visual alerts for passengers being paged; without paging phones equipped with text interfaces.
"Since Sept. 11, airports have become increasingly complex and structured places," says the Oakland-based law firm Disability Rights Advocates, which is handling the lawsuit. "Check-in procedures, screening and security have changed. Almost all information is communicated via loudspeaker or through verbal communication." People who cannot hear miss out out on critical information about flight changes and re-routings, miss crucial paging messages and even miss flights.
"They are treated like third-class citizens; they can't use a phone or communicate with airline officials," said DRA attorney Sid Wolinsky.
The new terminal is full of sophisticated touches: an art museum, a retail mall and numerous restaurants. "Yet the airport was apparently not sophisticated enough to install accessible visual paging or courtesy phones," said Wolinsky. "Other airports have accessible paging and courtesy phones," says DCARA's Rob Roth. "SFO did not even try to make its newest terminal accessible. It is really not that difficult." The group says that other airports have managed this, including the Atlanta International Airport and the Portland International Airport, which has visual paging throughout the airport.
The San Francisco airport is the 9th busiest airport in the world.
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