Carly Fleischmann, Nonverbal Teen of 'Carly's Voice,' Made to Put Away iPad During Flight

Carly Fleischmann, shown here in an ABC News segment about her remarkable use of computers to communicate.

Carly Fleischmann is not your ordinary 17-year-old girl. She’s an author with over 42,000 Facebook fans and 26,000 Twitter followers, for one thing. She has an immensely popular website in which she regularly dispenses advice to parents. She’s a passionate advocate for people with autism. She has a wisdom beyond her years.

She’s also nonverbal. Carly was diagnosed at age two with autism and an oral motor condition that prevented her from speaking. Doctors predicted that she would never gain the intellectual capacity past that of a small child. After years of intensive therapy, Carly remained largely unreachable. At age 10, Carly had a breakthrough and began communicating by typing on a computer. She now communicates entirely by computer and by iPad–typing with one finger.

So when an airline attendant told Carly to put away her iPad before a flight, it didn’t go very well.

“My iPad to me is like a voice,” Carly wrote on her Facebook page. “Can you imagine being on the airplane and being asked not to talk for over 25 minutes?”

A frequent flier, Carly has never been told that she had to put away her iPad before. Previously, she or her parents would explain that she needed the iPad for communication, and an exception would be made.

Noting that airplanes now often have wi-fi, Carly wrote in an open letter to American Airlines,

“It’s time for you to move with the times and understand that an iPad is not just for fun, it’s for people who really need it too. I would love the opportunity and chance to speak to you and your employees and teach you all about autism and special things you can you do for people traveling with autism. There are more people nowadays traveling with autism than ever before. I think it’s time that your airline and your policies change with the times. Don’t you?”

Currently, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules require that passengers turn off electronic devices during take-off and landing. However, last March, the FAA said it would re-evaluate its position on the use of e-readers and tablets (like Kindles and iPads) on airplanes.

“With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft,” FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told the New York Times.

Airlines haven’t done the “testing necessary” because it’s insanely expensive, Times reporter Nick Belton explained. Each device, and each version of the device (iPad, iPad2, etc.) has to be tested individually on its very own special flight with no passengers. Putting an aircraft in the air with no paying passengers isn’t usually an airline’s fave thing to do.

Many people have long questioned whether devices like cell phones and iPads could possibly really interfere with airplane equipment.

Michael Altschul, senior vice president and legal counsel for CTIA, the wireless industry association, told the New York Times that a study that it conducted more than a decade ago found no interference from mobile devices.

“The fact is, the radio frequencies that are assigned for aviation use are separate from commercial use,” Mr. Altschul said. “Plus, the wiring and instruments for aircraft are shielded to protect them from interference from commercial wireless devices.”

I’m not an engineer, but it does seem like if Kindles and iPads were truly dangerous, the Department of Homeland Security would be all over that shizz. I mean, they freak out over tiny bottles of shampoo. Plus, iPads, like cellphones, can be switched to “Airplane Mode” that disables the device’s radio signal.

iPads have become increasingly important tools for both children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, as well as other people with a range of speech disorders. It’s time for the FAA, and airlines, to recognize that. Not permitting Carly Fleischmann to have her iPad–her only means of communication–is like telling a person with hearing aids she can’t have them in, or a person with a service dog that he can’t come aboard.

One parent commented on Carly’s post,

“This is something I’ve been concerned about too. I’m taking my pre-verbal daughter on her first flight next month. She is using an iPad for communication and is young enough still that she panics/cries when it is taken from her. At home, that’s a pain, but manageable, but for 45 minutes at each end of a flight in an enclosed cabin? Not looking forward to it. Especially since the iPad can be made perfectly safe for air travel.”

For Carly, an iPad is a reasonable accommodation as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s reasonable because even if the thing is somehow magically dangerous to airplane navigation equipment, she can turn off the radio signal on the device simply by switching it to “Airplane Mode.”

The FAA needs to update their regulations, and airlines need to educate their employees on adaptive technology.

(Photo Credit: Carly’s Voice/ABC World News)

Read more from Joslyn at Babble Pets and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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