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Friday, March 26, 2021

TSA Screening for Autistic Travelers

  In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  One challenge is that autism is an "invisible disability," which does not have obvious physical markers.  

A release from Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI):

Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05), Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Caucus, has secured a commitment from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct new training and implement new procedures to better serve individuals with disabilities.

Several states, including Michigan, Texas and Arkansas, have recently passed legislation allowing individuals with autism, hearing loss, or other disabilities to choose to have a “communication impediment designation” on their driver’s licenses. This designation is meant to alert law enforcement officers to potential communication barriers, if an individual is pulled over or otherwise interacts with an officer.

In December 2020, Kildee, along with 11 Members of Congress, sent a letter urging the TSA to require training to ensure that their agents can recognize and incorporate “communication impediment designations” on state identification cards into travel screening procedures. In a February 2021 response letter from the TSA, the agency committed to utilizing state-level communication impediment designations as another tool to continuously improve the travel screening process for individuals with disabilities.

“We are updating applicable trainings to ensure that all TSOs [Transportation Security Officers] are aware of communication impediment designations and expect to deliver the updated training to the TSOs as early as May 2021,” the letter read.

Currently, TSA offers accommodations to individuals with disabilities, such as Passenger Support Specialists, who act as advocates to help individuals with disabilities through the travel screening process. However, more can be done to ensure a safe and smooth travel screening process for individuals with disabilities.

This effort comes after Congressman Kildee met with Xavier DeGroat from the Xavier DeGroat Foundation. The Xavier DeGroat Foundation was instrumental in the passage of Michigan’s state communication impediment designation law. The letter is endorsed by the Xavier DeGroat Foundation and the Association on Higher Education and Disability