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

By joslyngray |

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.

Recent posts:
Family: Young Man Denied Heart Transplant Because He’s Autistic
Study: Pets Can Help Autistic Kids Develop Social Behavior (Maybe)
Worst Mother-Son Bonding Activity Ever: Stealing $2M Worth of  Toys
LA Times: Boy Scout Files Reveal Repeat Child Abuse by Sexual Predators

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About joslyngray



Joslyn Gray is the mother of four children with a variety of challenges ranging from allergies to ADHD to Asperger Syndrome. She writes candidly and comedically about this and her generally hectic life on her light-hearted personal blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy.. Read bio and latest posts → Read joslyngray's latest posts →

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

  1. Becca says:

    Instead of having individual flights, they could utilize the times when airplanes are sent to “depot” for complete maintaince (sp) overhauls. ALL aircraft are required to do this every so many flight hours. They also have to be “check flighted” after the overhaul to ensure that they are airworthy. Seems to me that cell phones etc could be stuck on those flights as well.

    (Granted, this is coming from a maintainers’ daughter and a pilots’ wife!) ;-)

  2. Charity says:

    I have a question about this topic. As it is a reasonable accommodation, could the airlines be FORCED to accept the use of this type device with proper documentation from doctors? I know it’s better if they make the policy changes on their own, but sometimes a little prodding is needed…..

  3. Diana says:

    Sounds like the crew did what they were supposed to. I don’t think it’s worth potentially endangering a plane full of people over this. Sure, it may prove to be a non-issue at some point, but until then, I don’t think they did anything wrong. On the other side of things, is there a non-wi-fi device that can be used for the same purpose?

  4. joslyngray says:

    @Robert – According to Carly’s post, she was told to put it away during take-off and landing.
    @Diana — The thing is, the iPad can be switched to “Airplane Mode,” which disables the wi-fi capability of the device, while still letting Carly communicate. I can’t figure out why they don’t just let people do that, when it’s being used for a disability.

  5. holly says:

    I actually disagree. It’s 25 minutes. We ALL have to do things in that 25 minutes that suck. We can’t get up to pee, we can’t drink or eat, we can’t use our devices. It’s the process and a very known part of the process. This girl is old enough to understand the process and while it’s unfortunate she cannot speak without the device, it’s not like they are physically harming her. They are inconveniencing her. As for the mom of the pre-verbal toddler who panics at home when the iPad is taken from her…umm, my pre-verbal daughter also did not terribly like having to be seated and buckled during take off and taxi. So what? It’s the rules. The rules are the rules and if you do not like them, do not fly. People love to hate on airlines. Yes, they suck. But this rule is well published and well established and the girl is not greatly harmed by having no iPad for 25 minutes. (as for the “Airplane” mode, yeah, right. How many business travelers would lie, lie, lie that they are in airplane mode if allowed to have devices out. Stewardesses really do not need to be checking your “mode” and then watching to make sure you don’t switch back on. They tell you to put it all away. Alec Baldwin can’t play Words with Friends, neither can you.)

  6. JJ says:

    Take it up with the FAA. All portable electronic devices must remain off and PROPERLY STOWED during taxi, takeoff, approach and landing until the plane is at the gate and the seat belt sign is off.

    Stowed in approved storage locations…ie overhead bin, closet, or underneath seat.

    Not buying the argument that Cally couldn’t go without during take-off or landing, autistic or not. If this is the case, she should not be traveling alone.

    If she was allowed on previous flights it happened because it was an oversight on the part of the crews.

  7. Jackie says:

    Holy first world problems. Remember people, there used to be life before ipads existed. Im okay with inconveniencing people, even those with autism.

  8. E Soluk says:

    In this case the ipad was a piece of durable medical equipment and should have been allowed. We do not ask people to turn off other pieces of durable medical equipment during take off and landing. I think many of the responders do not understand what this device means to this individual. It is her voice. How many people would like to be told that they must sit silently for 25 or 30 minutes? If Carly had some kind of emergency during this time, how was she supposed to let someone know? This is an issue that goes beyond the ipad. There are many individuals who travel with electronic devices that they use for communication, they should not be rendered voiceless for an extended period.

  9. L. Lee says:

    I applaud Carly’s capacity to find a way to verbally thrive with autism. I also recognize that she’s young, and has more maturing to do which eventually might open her up to the possibility that however fair or unfair she may think the whole FAA secure all belongings and turn off electric appliances is, it is set up for the safety of people onboard the aircraft. Testing the devices is not just something to throw into a maintenance check. As previously mentioned, every version of every model of cell phone and appliance would individually need to be checked on every different piece of equipment, whether it be in a Cessna 152, a Beech 1900 or an Airbus 380.

    Then there’s Mr. Michael Altschul’s comment referencing CTIA’s flawed study 10 years ago. Mr. Altschul, come fly with me. I’ll let you sit in the copilot’s seat, and listen to the various snaps, crackles, rthymic tones and complete static that erupt when some cell phones are (illegally) in use in the aircraft during flight. Then you tell me whether or not (some) cell phones interfere with aircraft equipment. While it’s generally only annoying, it becomes hazardous when it blocks instructions from air traffic controllers.

    Carly, I’m glad the Captain did allow you the device. However, if something had gone seriously wrong and the thing had flown out of your hand, you’d be in a worse communication position than if you had stowed it in the seatback in front of you where you could reach it after the dust settled. And not to be mean, but we have many adult passengers who are accompanied by escorts, to facilitate everything from communication to transportation to personal hygience services. If you’re not willing to put up with the few minutes it takes to get up to 10,000 feet in the aircraft, then I believe you may still need an escort for flight.

  10. Zidlow Marx says:

    my son has autism…who is the real enemy Autism or our own petty intolerance’s i had to make this vidoe

  11. Shelbelle says:

    get in the car and drive to your destination, then you can do whatever you want!!

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