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“Putting Development

Before The Disability”

Exceptional Vacations Provides High Quality

Vacations for Individuals with Developmental

Disabilities and Other Special Needs.

Exceptional Vacations is a division of Exceptional Services Group

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Airlines Need to Train Their Staff on Disability Issues

A story broke not too long ago about a mother who was "humiliated" by United Airlines flight attendants when the airline staff insisted her daughter "sit up" in her seat for the flight.  Ivy is a 3 year old stroke survivor who is unable to sit up.  

Her parents purchased a seat for Ivy in the economy class since they knew that Ivy was required to have her own seat (children up to 2 years old can fly for free if they sit in their parents lap).  Although, Ivy is a small 3yo at only 25 pounds.  She is the same size of many one year olds.

After many attempts at trying to explain to the flight staff that Ivy could not sit up on her own, and the other flight attendants pleading with another flight attendant to allow Ivy to sit with her mother, the flight ended up being delayed over an hour.  

A spokeswoman for United told ABC News, "The parents, who were ticketed in first class, wanted to hold the child in their lap rather than have the child take the seat they'd purchased for her in economy. Federal safety regulations require any child over the age of two to have his or her own seat, and flight attendants are required by law to enforce that safety rule. As we did in this case, we will always try to work with customers on seating arrangements in the event of any special needs."

Exceptional Vacations is a provider of supervised vacations for adults with developmental disabilities.  According to their vice president, Jill Vassi, there is a lot that can be done to improve the training of the airline staff.  She said, "There seems to be a big disconnect among the varying branches of the airlines and airports.  For example, we have had a really bad experience with one particular major airline's services for individuals with disabilities.  As a result we try not to use them. On the other hand, we have had a great experience overall with Southwest Airlines.  They always try to accommodate the needs of our customers.  And, we are not asking a lot: just to get gate passes so that our staff can accompany a traveler to and from their gate."

Ivy's mother said she understands the rule, but "there are significant and obvious and extenuating circumstances here."  Ultimately, Ivy ended up lying, belted in, across their laps for takeoff and landing. She sat on her mother's lap for the rest of the trip.

"I don't want free flights and I'm not interested in contacting a lawyer as some people have suggested I should," she said. "I just want the airline to apologize."

There is a common theme among individuals with disabilities and their support staff.  They just want the airline staff to be trained in dealing with special needs in a compassionate and service oriented way.  If the airlines do not do this then it is a lose-lose situation.  The airlines lose customers and the individuals with disabilities continue to be marginalized.