Braille Monitor                                                                  August-September 1985

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A Pilot Speaks

Is it possible for a large segment (perhaps even a majority) of a given population to be selectively insane? In other words are there circumstances in which sizable numbers of people are perfectly rational concerning most matters but irrational (even to the point of madness) on one?

In the 1690's in Salem, Massachusetts, the population was sober, God-fearing, and to all appearances possessed of their senses. Yet, based on nothing more than the unsupported accusations of teenage girls, law-abiding citizens were hailed into court on charges of witchcraft. The accusers were not spanked and told to wash out their mouths with soap but were taken seriously. For weeks and months the entire community seemed to be fascinated with what they had to say. Ultimately juries convicted; judges pronounced sentence; and innocent people were hanged. If you had lived in Salem at that time, you might have been governed by the same madness that was infecting everybody else.

Farmers plowed their fields. Teachers conducted classes. Merchants bought and sold. The routine of daily life went on without interruption. If you had viewed it from the perspective of present-day America and if you had told a meeting of citizens that they were selectively insane on the subject of witchcraft, not only would you not have been believed but you might have been hanged into the bargain. Yet, selective insanity it was, and today it is hard to understand how the people of Salem could have thought and behaved as they did.

But Salem in the 1690's is not unique. Selective insanity has manifested itself in every country and almost every generation. Those affected by it are, of course, unaware of their madness. Often they make their claims in the name of reason and obvious common sense.

For the past decade the blind of this country have increasingly been the victims of harassment and abuse in their travel on airplanes. The harassment and abuse are justified in the name of "safety." If a blind person is told that he or she must surrender a cane during flight, it is done in the name of safety. Then, when the rule is changed and the blind person is allowed to keep the cane, there is no apparent embarrassment on the part of airline officials or understanding that the former requirement was irrational.

Sometimes blind persons are required to sit in bulkhead seats, sometimes in window seats, sometimes in aisle seats, sometimes in the back of the plane, and sometimes as far as possible from exit rows--and all of it is done in the name of safety. Sometimes the blind are required to preboard, sometimes to post board, and sometimes allowed to board with everybody else--and again, all in the name of safety. Blind persons are told they must sit on blankets while flying. They are sworn at and verbally abused. Their arms are twisted; their watches are torn off; and they are removed from the plane and thrown into jail--and once more, all in the name of safety. Officials of the federal-department of Transportation admit that the conduct of airline officials is inconsistent, but they act as if it was nothing to be excited about, just a matter of patience and diplomatic negotiation. Presumably one of the characteristics of selective insanity is the fact that those who have it do not know they have it.

And what about the requirement that blind persons may not sit in the row of seats next to the overwing exit? Is it really a matter of safety? Are there times when it would be a plus for safety if a blind person sat in these seats? What about the fact that airline officials serve liquor to passengers in exit rows to the point of getting them dead drunk and refuse seriously to consider the inconsistency of their safety arguments? Do pilots feel that the blind are a safety hazard in exit row seats? Undoubtedly some do since selective insanity is no respecter of persons. But even in the most far-flung epidemic, tenere are always those who are immune:

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Russell Wayne Anderson,

Plaintiff,

U.S. Air, Inc.,

Defendant.

Civil Action Number 85-0523

Affidavit of Jared Haas

I, Jared Haas, being first duly sworn, depose and state:

1. I reside at 9909 Craig Street, Overland Park, Kansas 66212.

2. I have been a pilot for many years. I currently fly 727 aircraft, and I have been employed to do so since June of 1974.

3. I am familiar with a number of blind people, and I am generally familiar with the capacities of the blind.

4. In an emergency situation, there are circumstances in which it would be helpful to have an able-bodied blind person seated in an emergency exit row with a sighted person. In those cases in which there is smoke in the cabin, an able-bodied blind person, being used to handling situations without sight, would be able to assist with more facility in the evacuation.

5. I would recommend that an able-bodied blind person and an able-bodied sighted person sit together in an emergency exit row so that there is the maximum flexibility to deal with emergency situations. If the overwing exit is to be used, it is important to establish that the wing outside that exit is intact and not on fire. The sighted person could do this.

6. An able-bodied blind person would not hinder an emergency evacuation.

Jared Haas