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American Airlines Tells Autistic Teen To Turn off iPad Used for Communication

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Aug 17, 2012 10:50 AM EDT

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Carly and sister Taryn at an airport. Carly's iPad is to her right.(Photo : Facebook)

A teen with Autism was told to turn off her iPad on an American Airlines flight. This practice is pretty common, but the girl uses her iPad for more than just games and Facebook. She uses her iPad to communicate.

Carly Fleischmann was distressed when a flight attendant on her flight from Los Angeles to Toronto, told her to turn off her iPad during takeoff.  Fleischmann suffers from Oral Motor Apraxia which means she has clear thoughts, but they become mixed up when she tries to speak.  She doesn't have the fine motor skills to use a pen, but she can use her fingers. Because of this, she uses the iPad to communicate.

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The Apple device has become a necessity in Fleischmann's life.

"I use the iPad like a prosthetic limb and not as a toy. I think that is what is blinding people on this issue," Fleischmann told ABC News in an email.

As the iPad is Fleischmann's main form of communication, it is important for her to be able to use it. "If she was about to have a seizure, there is no way she could tell me without her iPad," her aide and therapist Howard Dalal who was traveling with Fleischmann said.

Apple products have the ability to be placed on Airplane mode, which disables the wireless features so that the products comply with airline regulations. 
However even in this mode, Fleischmann can still use the device to communicate.

The flight attendant insisted that Fleischmann turn the device off and put it out of her reach as it went against American Airline's policy. The captain had to get involved and upon realizing how crucial the device was, he allowed her to keep it.

After given permission to use it, Dalal set the timer on the iPad to determine how long Fleischmann would have had to go without communicating during the takeoff procedure. He determined that she would have gone 50 minutes without being able to use the vital device.

The pilot later told Dalal that the policy was ridiculous and he admitted that pilots use the devices themselves during takeoff and landing. Recent reports show that mobile devices have no dangerous effect on aircrafts.

Fleischmann took to her Facebook page to address the issue and explain the importance of having the iPad during travel. Her page has a big fan base as she has a memoir called "Carly's Voice," in which she describes her struggles with autism and how she learned to communicate through technology.

"I have autism and my iPad acts as a augmentative devices that allows me to communicate and be heard. I use my iPad during security to ask for further instructions, I use my iPad well waiting for my airplane and ask the reception people when the flights going to take off, I use my iPad on the airplane to tell them if there's something wrong with my seat or my seatbelt or with the airplane. I am begging you as a active passenger on your flights to change your policy when it comes to dealing with people with autism and other special needs. Its time for you to move with the times and understand that a iPad is not just for fun it's for people who really need it too."

Fleischmann is hoping that American Airlines and other airlines change their policy. She reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Human Rights Commission to see if they can make some changes.

In a statement to ABC, American Airlines explained "Our flight attendants are responsible for following U.S. Department of Transportation regulations on the accommodation of customers with disabilities." They claimed that federal safety rules require personal devices to be turn off and stowed away during takeoff and landing.

This is the first time that Fleischmann has ever had an issue regarding her iPad on flights.

American Airlines is reviewing the situation and waiting to hear back from the crew on the flight, which could take several weeks.


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