My heart was beating fast as I was looking at this woman’s eyes in fire. Trying my best to hold myself back, probably my knuckles were whitening from holding my hands into fists.
“You can talk! You can talk!!!” she shouted angrily repeatedly at my friend and I. I’ve experienced discrimination, even with other airlines, but this was especially different. All because we are both Deaf and need an accommodation that they don’t want to do.
I couldn’t tolerate this shit anymore.
At the time, I was traveling with Deafinitely Without Barriers for our backpacking trip. We were quite excited about heading to Thailand for the first time from Singapore where we had a day layover.
My friend and I were rushing through the airport, fearing that we may miss the check-in time at Scoot airline ticketing counter. Seriously, as a noobie at that time who traveled internationally without family for the first time, I kept forgetting that you needed to check in at least 3 hours prior for your international flight.
A male Scoot ticketing agent was sitting there dumbfoundly when he saw my friend and I were signing to each other, like a deer in the headlights. A line that we, Deaf community, often use when we face something like this. That’s nothing new. He was in a frozen-like state and then composed himself and began talking. Everything that came out of his mouth was just a blur, I didn’t understand what he was saying. I shook my head, gesturing him to please “write” nicely.
If you’re wondering how I gestured: I had my left palm up, like a paper, my right hand was gestured into like I was holding a pen and gesturing that I was writing.
Most of the gestures I use during travel are usually imagery that can be easily understood, such as “eat.” I also would adopt local gestures; for example, “No” gesture is different comparing to India & Japan.
Instead of attempting to accommodate, he still insisted on an auditory conversation. “Please write,” I told him again in gestures. He just stood still and looked at the other agent, begging to be recused. Maybe he didn’t know English, I thought. So, I gestured him to ask another ticketing agent to come but he didn’t. He just kept on talking. Again, “write” I told him.
A Scoot female ticketing agent, who was sitting down nearby, came to his rescue. She had a black hair up into a high bun standing tall. Her face was cold, emotionless and tight-lipped.
She started talking in English, and I honestly had not idea what she was saying either. Talking in English didn’t really matter. Her words were also blurred. All I caught was “you” and few other words that I couldn’t be put together into sentences. Her expression then began showing all signs of irritation and frustration: her eyebrows furrowed and pursed her lips. She kept talking, and my friend and I were started to feel frustrated because they just do not want to write down.
I have experienced this several times before, and it was no different back home. So, I gestured again, telling her to write down what she was saying. Fire was lit in her eyes. She pointed her finger at my friend and looked at both of us, she began shouting,
“You can talk! YOU can talk! I SAW YOU OVER THERE. I SAW YOU GUYS TALKING OVER THERE!”
I was appalled, and my friend was speechless. We stood there, feeling shocked. Other Scoot ticketing agents were looking at us. I could feel other people were watching to see what was happening. I felt myself shaking a little, trying keep calm. I wasn’t embarrassed that there was a scene. I couldn’t care less
She kept insisting loudly, “YOU CAN TALK” and pointed at my friend. She claimed that she saw us talking earlier but she didn’t know that we were merely mouthing when were were signing.
My heart began racing fast and faster as she raised her voice. I looked at the male ticketing agent who just sat there, still being a deer in the headlight.
“You can talk! You can talk!!!” she shouted angrily repeatedly as she was pointing at my friend and practically glared at us. Trying my best to hold myself back, my knuckles were probably becoming white from holding my hands into fists.
I couldn’t believe how audistic, unprofessional and insensitive she was. My friend stood quiet, frozen and couldn’t believe she and I were being treated like this. I don’t often like confrontation. I admit sometimes I even avoid confrontation (which is not always good) but this is something that I couldn’t avoid. I couldn’t tolerate this shit anymore.
I slammed my right fist on the counter. I gestured, NO! No! YOU write! Write!
I felt my body shaking and my heart racing faster than ever. I felt scared, angry, inferior and dehumanized all at once. Would they do something to us? Would they not let us check us in? Would they claim that they have the rights to refuse service?
But my friend and I don’t deserve to be treated like this. She and I, and my Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, don’t need to tolerate this kind of dehumanizing shit.
The woman just stood there quiet, turned her back on me angrily and told all her airline ticketing agents that she saw us talking. Does she considered what she was doing was professional? I couldn’t believe how she was handling this situation. Scoot, is this type of employee you want in your airline company?
I tapped the counter again to get her attention, gesturing and mouthing “TALK. NO. YOU WRITE. WE ARE DEAF.” She still looked at me angrily and refused to comply.
Another man suddenly came to our rescue. He was next (and the only one) in line and saw the whole scenario. I wasn’t sure what he said to the ticketing agents but I caught him gesturing “writing” and pointing at us. He titled his head, an expression like “c’mon, you know what you’re supposed do.” His expression exhibited that he was upset with how Scoot ticketing agents were handling this.
The woman stood there angrily, looked sideway and moved her jaw. That damn pursed lip again.
The man who helped us told them that a written communication was necessary to accommodate with Deaf people. I thanked the man by mouthing and signing “thank you.” The deer-in-the-headlight guy began writing to us, and he knew English. On the paper, all he was asking whether we have any prohibited item in our backpacks and if we are carrying any liquid.
Seriously? All that stressful and dehumanizing treatment, that was all he wanted to say? How hard was it to write that down? How hard is it to point at the prohibited infographic, that is right there on the ticketing counter, to ask us about it?
This is a classic example of Audism, a discrimination against Deaf and Hard of Hearing travelers. If they just accommodate with my friend and I, everything would have been a lot more smoother. They were the ones who made it so much more complicated than it needed to be. We would have left with feeling of respect and humanized. I’ve given them a method that is most effective to communicate but they just wouldn’t do it.
Stupidly, I didn’t file a complaint against Scoot Airline soon after, which is one of my biggest travel mistakes. At the time, I decided to hold it off till later but became distracted when traveling in Thailand.
If you’ve experienced any form of discrimination during your travel, including with different airlines, do please learn this from me. Reporting and filing a compliment is not only just about you. It is also about every other future passenger. This incident can happen to them, especially within the marginalized communities. Just know that sometimes there are some things you can be patience about and just educate them, but there is also a boundary to it. If you feel dehumanized and know that you shouldn’t be treated that way, it is okay for you to speak up for yourself.
Had you ever been discriminated at the airport?
Or oppressed? What happen and how did you manage it? Did you ever report it? Share your thoughts/feelings in the comment below!