Justice for Hannah Cohen: Freedom from Violence is a Must

Silhouette of people walking in the airport

*In the following article you may notice the word ‘disAbled’ is written as such.  It is written this way to recognize that disAbility is a social location imposed by ablism. The capital ‘A’ in ability highlights the contributions and capabilities of the disAbility community.

I don’t travel often. But on Wednesday, July 6th I traveled to Newfoundland for my maternal grandmother’s funeral. I am a wheelchair-user and for that reason, I travel lightly. Everything that I travel with has its place on the back of my wheelchair or no place at all. This trip to Newfoundland was booked spontaneously due to the nature of it. I threw some things in a backpack and made my way to Union Station to get to the Toronto Pearson International Airport.

When it was my turn to go thru security I was thoroughly padded down by a female officer and my bags were checked by a male officer. While my blue and black backpack were being checked, the male officer unwrapped an injectable emergency medication that I am prescribed. He asked me questions, some of them ignorant questions. I answered them all. Then he called his supervisor. I felt anxiety creep up in my chest and my breathing became quickened. There was an inevitable line of people impatiently waiting behind me. The supervisor came over briefly and gave me the green light. All of this was equal parts routine and ridiculous from my minds-eye.

It reminded me of traveling with my adapted swim team as a young woman, and that all-too-often my fellow swimmers with braces and artificial limbs made the rock-and-a hard-place-choice to literally take off their braces and their artificial legs and arms in an effort to avoid: more frisking, more questions and the production and spectacle that can arise for travelers with disAbilities. Add to this the all too frequent loss of and damage to assistive devices that disAbled people can experience and it’s not hard to see why my last trip to Newfoundland was 12 years ago.

On this particular day, my penchant for hypervigilance kicked in. I was more observant and “on alert” than normal. I answered ignorant questions in the queue and with poise (after all, I’ve had practice). I negotiated. It was hard work.

In the same week, a young woman with a brain injury was terrorized at a Memphis International Airport. She is visually impaired, hearing impaired and struggles cognitively due to a brain tumor. The young woman’s wheelchair set off the security scanner in the same way that my prescribed emergency medicine prompted security guards at Toronto Pearson International Airport to call their supervisor.

My first question is where is the outrage from disAbled, law enforcement reform activists and women activists alike?

The reasons for the violence are not a mystery, at least not to me. Here is the list: excessive use of force by often abusive forces, patriarchy, the disAbled body viewed as different, as alien, as defiant and worthless. The disAbled women as always-already seen as a body that needs to be brought into line and into the expectations of able-bodied others. Clearly, this young woman was not seen as someone experiencing varying degrees of blindness and deafness and communication difficulties or the response from authorities would have been different.

The disAbled community needs to be seen and in regards to traveling and traveling alone, attention must be paid to disAbled travelers. There is this weird and terrible thing that happens when I am traveling with someone. To be legitimate that “someone” needs to be able-bodied. That weird and terrible thing that happens when I travel with an able-bodied person is that all the able-bodied people in charge have a tendency to relax because obviously, the able-bodied “attendant” is in charge of me in their view.

When I am alone in travel, however, people’s response to me is very different, in that, less transit staff, security, and fellow travelers listen to me. That is ableism. Whether I am traveling alone or with friends I am still in charge of me. I know what my needs are. I know the details of my travel plans (at least most of the time) I know the purpose of my medications and only I can know my body.

In the event that I don’t have this information because I have switched flights, time zones, bags, or I am sans a cell phone or confused due to a brain tumor I still deserve respect, support, assistance and my humanness.

No one listened to Hannah. No one saw her or the fact that she was simply trying to make sense of a situation full of fully sighted, and hearing people who at the end of the day, injured her severely.

Where is the outrage? Where is the justice?

About TLangdon 6 Articles
Terri-Lynn Langdon, MSW, RSW, is a DisAbled social worker and social justice activist working in Toronto. She currently sits on the DisAbility, Access, Inclusion and Advisory Committee of the City of Toronto and works at Eight Branches Healing Arts Centre and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute on the LIFEspan team. She has worked alongside people with disabilities for 13 years. She takes a human rights approach to disAbled bodies and disAbility Studies. She has also worked for Many years in the violence against women field. Her website can be found here: http://thrivecounsellingforgrowth.weebly.com/


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