The Safety Net

Airport Security: Special Considerations for People with Disabilities



Holiday Air Travel
During the holidays, many consumers and their families will visit loved ones who live elsewhere in the country or abroad. Traveling safely is a concern for all of us, regardless of whether we hit the highway, hop on a train, or soar above the clouds. For those who choose airline travel, and especially those people who have not flown in the past couple of years, an awareness of enhanced national security measures may save you time and frustration at the airport.

Transportation Security Administration
In response to the events of 9/11/01, the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established as a unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. One of TSA’s key roles is to prevent breaches of national security related to air travel. As a result, a variety of security screening measures have been implemented.

TSA recognizes that some passengers may have special needs or require additional assistance during the security screening processes now in place at all U.S. airports. According to TSA, personnel who conduct security checkpoint screenings have been trained to be sensitive to and respectful of the needs of all passengers, including passengers who have special needs. The following information should be taken into consideration should you or your family member plan to travel by air this holiday season.

Mobility, Prosthetic, Orthotic, or Other Devices

  • Don't hesitate to ask a screener for assistance with equipment and carry-on items.
  • Let the screener know whether you can walk, stand or lift your arms; it will expedite the screening process.
  • If you use a wheelchair for all of your mobility needs, the screener will direct you to an area where you will be screened with a hand wand and/or pat down procedure. This will take the place of metal detector screening.
  • Ensure that all bags and satchels hanging from, or carried on, your equipment are put on the X-ray belt for inspection.
  • Notify the screener if your devices require special handling.
  • Crutches, canes and walkers will need to go through the X-ray machine.
  • Collapse canes whenever possible before they are put on the X-ray belt.
  • The screener will perform a hand inspection of your equipment if it cannot fit through the X-ray machine.
  • Let the screener know if you need assistance removing your shoes.
  • Let the screener know if your shoes cannot be removed because of your specific needs; alternative security procedures can then be applied.
  • After screening, your device should be returned in the appropriate condition for use.
  • Screeners may need to see and touch your prosthetic devices and body braces as part of the inspection process.
  • You can ask for a private screening for the inspection of your prosthetic device or body brace.
  • Notify screeners if you need assistance or support during the inspection of your prosthetic devices or body braces. You may need a chair or wall to lean on or a person to provide support.
  • You may bring tools and appliances (e.g. wrenches, pull sleeves, etc.) used to put on or take off prosthetic devices through the checkpoint once they have been screened.

'Hidden' Disabilities

TSA refers to some persons' disabilities as 'hidden'. These may include some people who have developmental disabilities that involve cognitive, learning, or emotional challenges. Persons with such disabilities can advise screeners that they have a hidden disability and may need some assistance, or need to move somewhat slower than other passengers.

For people with hidden disabilities, family members can:

  • Advise screeners when they are traveling with someone who may move slower, become agitated easily and/or need additional attention.
  • Offer suggestions to screeners on the best way to approach and deal with the person, especially when it is necessary to touch the person during a pat-down inspection.
  • Notify the screener if the person may need to sit down before and/or during the screening process.

Problems with Vision

You may ask the screener to do the following:

  • Explain the security process.
  • Describe each step of the screening process as you go through it.
  • Tell you where the metal detector is located.
  • Tell you when you will be going though the metal detector.
  • Tell you when there are obstacles for you to avoid.
  • Assign someone to escort you through the screening process.
  • Perform a hand inspection of special equipment (e.g., Braille note-takers) if the X-ray inspection will damage them.
  • Return all of your carry-on items and assistive devices after the X-ray or physical inspection of the items is completed, including electronic equipment that has been specially adapted for your use.
  • Verbally direct you toward your gate once the screening has been completed.

Problems with Hearing

If the screening process is unclear to you or your family member, you can ask the screener to write down the information for you. You can also ask the screener to repeat the information while looking directly at you so that lip reading can be used. If you use sign language and have a traveling companion who can communicate with you in this manner, that person can serve as interpreter for the screening instructions, including step-by-step directions for the screening process.

Service Animals

  • It is recommended that persons using a dog for assistance carry appropriate identification. This may include cards or other documents, presence of a harness or markings on the harness, special tags, or other assurance that the animal is being used for the sole purpose of assisting the passenger due to his or her disability.
  • Advise the screener how you and your dog can go through the metal detector as a team (i.e. whether walking together or with the dog walking in front of or behind you while you continually maintain control of the animal with the leash or harness.
  • The harness will likely set off the alarm on the metal detector. In such cases, screeners will perform a hand inspection of the dog and its belongings (collar, harness, leash, backpack, vest, etc.). The belongings will not be removed from your dog at any time.
  • If necessary, remind the screener that you should not be separated from your dog and that removal of your dog's belongings is a sign to the dog or other service animal that it is off work.


  • Notify screeners that you have diabetes and are carrying your supplies with you.
  • The following diabetes related supplies and equipment are allowed through the checkpoint once they have been screened:
    • insulin and insulin loaded dispensing products including vials, jet injectors, pens, infusers, and preloaded syringes;
    • unlimited number of unused syringes when accompanied by insulin; and
    • lancets, blood glucose meters and meter test strips, insulin pumps, and insulin pump supplies.
  • Insulin in any form or dispenser must be properly marked with a professionally printed label identifying the medication or manufacturer's name or pharmacy label.
  • Notify screeners if you are wearing an insulin pump and, if necessary, advise the screener that it cannot be removed since it is surgically implanted.
  • Insulin pumps and supplies must be accompanied by insulin with professionally printed labels identifying the medication or manufacturer's name or pharmacy label.
  • Let screeners know if you are experiencing low blood sugar and need medical assistance.
  • It is recommended that used syringes be transported in your checked baggage; however, when used syringes need to be in carry-on bags, keep them in a hard, plastic-capped container (i.e. sharps disposable container) for safety and containment.

Pacemakers and Vagal Nerve Stimulators

  • It is recommended, not required, that individuals with either a pacemaker or a vagal nerve stimulator carry an Identification Card (ID) noting your use of the device when going through airport security.
  • It is recommended, not required, that you advise the screener that you have an implanted pacemaker or vagal nerve stimulator.
  • Show the screener your ID, if you have one, and ask the screener to conduct a pat-down inspection of you rather than having you walk through the metal detector or be manually inspected with a wand.

As most frequent flyers will tell you, getting to the airport in plenty of time is even more critical during the holiday rush. It is recommended that you contact your airline for guidance on the estimated amount of time you should allow for ticketing, baggage check, and security clearance at your airport. You can also ask about any specific policies or recommendations that your airline has for passengers who have disabilities

With adequate information and advance preparation, all passengers can make it through the security screening process with a minimum of disruption to their travel itineraries. As TSA says, Smart Security Saves Time. . . Bon Voyage!

For more information on the Transportation Security Administration, go to:

This website focuses on a broad range of topics of interest to the traveling public. It includes detailed information on security procedures, including permitted and prohibited items, travel preparation, law and policy, security and law enforcement, and passenger resources.




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