Complaint from deaf traveler at Austin airport sparks changes to TSA policy

Airport lounge.  Photo by Altairkh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

A recent complaint concerning the Transportation Security Administration’s treatment of a deaf passenger at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport prompted changes in the ways the agency treats travelers with accessibility needs.

Topher Avila, who is deaf, told the Airport Advisory Commission at its Feb. 8 meeting that he was stopped by a TSA official during a recent visit to the airport.

Avila recently completed a legal name change and arrived at the airport with a government ID, a stamped copy of the name change paperwork, his old ID, and his Social Security card. When he reached security, he was pulled aside by a TSA agent but no interpreter was made available for assistance.

After about 20 minutes, Avila was allowed to clear the checkpoint. However, just after crossing he was detained again. This time, TSA took his backpack and cell phone, leaving him unable to communicate or understand why he was being detained. When he asked for his phone back, Avila said an agent “put their finger in my face.”

“There was no attempt to communicate or explain what was going on,” Avila said.

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