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June 16, 2004

Deaf advocates sue Airport Authority

From: Burbank Leader - Burbank,CA,USA - Jun 16, 2004

Federal lawsuit claims airport does not do enough to assist deaf and hearing impaired.

By Jackson Bell
The Leader

June 16, 2004

AIRPORT DISTRICT — Patricia Hughes had encountered many frustrations trying to catch flights at Bob Hope Airport over the years because of her hearing impairment.

But nothing compared to an incident last month when an airport security guard ordered her mother, who also is deaf, out of her wheelchair.

The Greater Los Angeles Agency of Deafness Inc., which Hughes heads, had had enough by then.

On Monday, the agency filed a class-action federal lawsuit against the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, which oversees the airport.

Hughes and her mother were having trouble communicating with security guards at the metal detector, mainly because there was no sign-language interpreter available, she said.

A guard ordered Hughes' mother to walk through the metal detector. She struggled to hobble the short distance.

The lawsuit alleges the airport violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act and doesn't do enough to help hearing-impaired passengers.

Kevin Knestrick, an attorney with the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates who filed the lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles, filed a similar lawsuit against San Francisco International Airport in 2002.

The airport does not have enough visual aids, text telephones or sign-language interpreters, according to the lawsuit. Some passengers have complained that employees have failed to point out text-messaging machines or help them track down their flights, the agency's representatives said.

An estimated 10% of Bob Hope Airport's nearly 5 million yearly passengers are hearing impaired, Knestrick said. He added that the airport's $30-million renovation plans don't include upgraded services for the deaf.

"A deaf person who uses the airport has to remain extremely vigilant from the moment they enter to the moment they depart," he said. "It can be incredibly intimidating, and it can be dangerous, considering the security climate of airports today."

The lawsuit demands printouts for commonly asked questions at the check-in counter, a courtesy phone for the hearing impaired and more text telephones or TTY machines, which have a keyboard that sends voice messages. It also calls for visual monitors at boarding gates and security checkpoints, sign-language interpreters, and staff training to assist disabled passengers.

Charles Lombardo, the Airport Authority's president, said officials launched an internal review of the complaints and would keep Knestrick abreast of the findings.

"If there are improvements that can be made, we'll do what we have to do to make them so we can assist passengers to the best of our ability," Lombardo said.

Officials said two of the airport's nearly 60 phones are equipped with TTY technology. They also acknowledged that they do not have an interpreter on staff.

The airport has a long history of working with the city of Burbank's Advisory Council on Disabilities, officials said.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times