Deaf woman confused, frightened during scare at JIA

Hearing impaired passengers at disadvantage on flights

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When people are hearing impaired they often rely on their other senses to get them by, but in an emergency situation, those senses don't always tell you everything you need to know.

Senette Jenkins is deaf and during Tuesday's scare at the Jacksonville International Airport, she had a hard time understanding what was going on.

"She felt frustrated because she didn't know the information about what was going on," explained Jenkins' nephew, who interpreted her sign language for Channel 4. "They even asked the plane waitress because she knew a little of sign language, but she didn't want to tell her more. She didn't realize that the hearing people looked down at her kind of, and it left her behind."

"On an emotional level, it makes my stomach knot up," said Dr. Jeanne Prickett.

Prickett works at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and after hearing about Senette's struggles Tuesday at the Jacksonville International Airport, she said there needs to be better communication during emergencies for people with disabilities.

"The very best option in my opinion would be to have those LED read outs such as those that appear in many public places where the words run across the screen with the emergency alerts," said Prickett. "It would be fairly simple thing to have that kind of alert right there in every airplane. Right there, with the screen where the information is shown for the evacuation procedure. It may cost the airline but it may save lives and in the long run, airlines want to serve their passengers well."

According to airport officials, JIA is in compliance with the American Disabilities Act. JIA is equipped with a telephonic device for the deaf system, which includes TVs with closed captioning.

JIA told Channel 4 that they also have interpreters on standby to help hearing impaired travelers.

"We will follow up with all the agencies involved, the airlines and look at how we did in the situation and what areas we can improve on," said JIA Spokesman Michael Stewart.

Channel 4 searched through some of the major airlines' websites Wednesday night to see what their procedures are for dealing with hearing impaired passengers. Most airlines recommend deaf passengers notify airline staff or security of any special needs or technology before they fly.

Dr. Prickett believes Jenkins' story can promote change that will allow others in Jenkins' situation fly with more security and peace of mind.

"I would very much like to see the FAA and the airlines meet with deaf people to talk about how to get the emergency alerts accessible, so that every deaf person who travels will have access to emergency information as it's happening," said Prickett.

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