Discrimination complaint filed after deaf woman detained at Honolulu airport

An incident at the airport has the American Civil Liberties Union filing a discrimination complaint against a government agency.

The ACLU says a deaf woman from Japan, who asked to remain anonymous, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Jan. 31 shortly after landing in Honolulu.

The ACLU says during that time, she repeatedly asked for an American Sign Language interpreter, but was instead forced to communicate by reading lips and writing.

During her overnight detention, the ACLU says she was handcuffed with her hands behind her back, which took away her ability to communicate.

“I was so scared and felt alone,” she said. “For people with deafness, being cut off from our ways of communicating is terrifying. I have traveled a lot, but have never experienced anything like this at any airport ever. With this complaint, I just want to make sure that other deaf people coming through Hawaii’s airports are treated with basic respect and dignity, and that disabilities are accommodated.”

“The minimum dignity that you can afford someone is just the ability for them to communicate with you, and instead of doing that, they just denied her that right,” said ACLU legal director Mateo Caballero. “The ACLU’s complaint demands a full investigation and the training of custom and border agents so that other deaf individuals do not experience the same traumatic detention practices as our client did.”

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman released the following statement in response:

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has received the complaint and will address these accusations once our investigation is completed. CBP takes accusations of mistreatment against travelers with disabilities very seriously. CBP officers receive extensive training in disability awareness and treat all travelers with disabilities with dignity, respect and professionalism.”

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