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Perhaps Justice shouldn't be blind this time...

Over the weekend, the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67, the last non-nuclear-powered aircraft built by the United States) went on a "farewell tour" before she is decommissioned. "Big John" dropped anchor in Boston, the former home of her namesake, and opened her decks to visitors.

But she didn't welcome all comers.

One man who wanted to experience this massive warship -- 1,052 feet long, displacing 82,000 tons, and once home to almost 3,300 sailors, not counting the air group -- but was stopped at the pier.

Was he a terrorist? A criminal? A potential threat to the ship?

Nope. He was blind.

Apparently, the "Big John" -- for all its other attributes -- isn't overly handicapped-accesssible, and that has some people a bit irritated. Some of those people are from the American Federation of the Blind, and they say that the ship is in violation of both state access laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

They're probably right. But I don't care.

The Big John is NOT a public facility. She is a commissioned warship of the United States Navy, and every aspect of her construction is designed around that mission. As huge as she is, she is a labyrinth of compartments, each with a high-threshold (sailors refer to them as "knee-knockers") door that can be sealed watertight. There are no ramps or elevators, only staircases (called "ladders"). The halls are barely wide enough for two people to pass each other, and there are low-hanging pipes, conduits, and wiring everywhere.

"Big John" is an amazing feat of engineering. Her eight oil-fired boilers put out 280,000 horsepower, or 210 megawatts, allowing her to cruise the seas in excess of 34 knots (roughly 40 MPH). She can carry up to 80 aircraft. And even more amazing, she is nearly 40 years old.

But one thing she is not, and never was intended to be, is handicap-accessible.

The Big John is, as I said, on a bit of a "farewell tour." She is slated to be decommissioned soon. After that, her fate is uncertain. The Navy might choose to use her as a target, to test its weapons systems ("Sink-Ex"). She might be scrapped, but that is unlikely -- environmental regulations and laws have made such activities prohibitively expensive.

Or she might be donated for use as a museum, like the USS Intrepid in New York, USS Midway in San Diego, or USS Lexington in Corpus Christi. There are many in Boston who would like to see the Big John take up permanent home in Boston Harbor.

At that point, making her more handicapped-accessible would make sense. In fact, it would pretty much be mandated.

But until she is decommissioned later this month, she remains a warship of the United States Navy, on active duty -- and her combat effectiveness can not be compromised.

No matter how non-handicapped-accessible she might be to those who wish to pay their respects to this gallant lady who served us so well for so long.

(Author's note: yes, I did repeatedly refer to the JFK by a masculine name, but a feminine pronoun. By naval tradition, all ships are considered female -- even those named after men. It leads to some odd verbal constructions on occasions, but it's a long-established tradition and I'm not going to mess with it.)


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Comments (31)

As a 20 plus year vet (2 CG... (Below threshold)

As a 20 plus year vet (2 CG's 1 DD, 2 DDG's and a couple TAD's on the U.S.S. Enterprise) the American Federation of the Blind can go to hell in hand basket, led by a leader dog if they must.

To use this stop in Boston as a vehicle to push their agenda cheapens both the ship and their cause.

I'm afraid the solution wil... (Below threshold)

I'm afraid the solution will likely be to not open up ships like this to the public at all.

"It's not a public facilty.... (Below threshold)

"It's not a public facilty." Case closed. Amen.

during the late 60's early ... (Below threshold)

during the late 60's early 70's I had the privilege of dating people stationed in Massachusetts. They were told that under no circumstances were they to appear in public in their uniforms because of the hatred of the people of massachusetts for them. It was done to protect their safety because of the hostility by boston and attacks on them while in boston (and suburbs). This also applied to the sailors who docked in boston when the Kennedy visited in the early 70's. Recently (after 9/11) I have heard people interviewed on our local radio who were from the hanscom airforce base, and they had been treated with hostility in the towns surrounding hanscom. If this state and boston cannot treat our military with the respect and honor it warrants, than no, the kennedy should go somewhere where its service is valued.

Just what was a blind man e... (Below threshold)

Just what was a blind man expecting in a visit to the ship??? I am a Naval Architect and Marine Engineer by profession and a ship is no place for a blind person. They are hard enough to get around for a sighted individual. This is BS and hopefully readers will recognize the stupidity of the "outrage" at the war ship not being handicap accessible.

My first two deployments in... (Below threshold)
John in CA:

My first two deployments in the United States Navy ('81 and '83-'84) were in the USS Kennedy, in a squadron of the airwing. It was a GREAT ship. Subsequent deployments in other carriers inform my belief that Big John was a class act - operationally she had no peer, IMO.

A Navy ship is a dangerous environment even for fully sighted, healthy people. A blind person would not only be jeopardizing their own safety but that of others.

They should take it to Batt... (Below threshold)

They should take it to Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA. They've already got the USS Massachusetts (battleship) the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr (destroyer) and the USS Lionfish (submarine). Plus a PT Boat and several other exhibits. The USS John F. Kennedy would fit in just fine there.

It certainly is a pu... (Below threshold)

It certainly is a public facility now if it is handling 3,000 visitors in a single day -- but it wouldn't be difficult for Congress to modify the Americans With Disabilities Act with an exception to cover this type of facility. Until then the law needs to be followed in all instances.

In the late '60s, I had a s... (Below threshold)

In the late '60s, I had a short stay on the USS Forrestal after I got food poisoning from something I bought from a dockside vendor in Piraeus, Greece. (They warned us) I spent a couple of days in the ship's hospital, and while I was there our task force went to sea. It was a couple of weeks before I was highlined back to my tin can, and during that time, I had pretty much free rein. I wandered around the ship, marveling at it's size - especially the hanger deck. One day I took a stroll down the longest passageway (corridor) that I had ever seen - it seemed to go on forever, and about every fifteen feet or so, I encountered a 'shin-buster' (not a 'knee-knocker' that I ever heard) and by the time I was done, I thought that I would surely die up there and someday someone would come across my bones and wonder who it was.
I was, of course, fully sighted and in excellent physical condition (having fully recovered from my bout of illness) and the notion of a blind man walking a ship like that, with all its traps for the unwary, is quite ridiculous. The Navy would be guilty of negligence if it allowed such folly.
Good intentions don't trump common sense.

Lee:People like yo... (Below threshold)


People like you (liberals) are a lawyer's wet dream.

So instead of the law servi... (Below threshold)

So instead of the law serving the people, Lee, we are slaves of our laws? What happened to reason, fairness and common sense? Some system.

Why people persist in their egalitarian delusion that 'everyone can do anything' in the face of the fact that some of us are disabled. The very notion of *disability* contradicts this wishful thinking that would have us made equal by law.

I say, let the blind go aboard the Kennedy, but make 'em sign a waiver. If they fall off a ladder or bump their heads on the pipes, 'tis the price of freedom.

Jay: I cannot believe that ... (Below threshold)

Jay: I cannot believe that you hate blind people so much. [/sarc]

Lee: If that's your position on this, based on an inability to understand the difference between an active warship and a public facility, how do you expect to get taken seriously on larger and more complicated issues?

Murdoc - it's either open t... (Below threshold)

Murdoc - it's either open to the public or it isn't. If it's handling 3,000 visitors a day it's open to the public.

Apparently the Act doesn't have an exemption for this type of facility - it should. There are many other exemptions that probably need to be done. Make a list, and amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to exempt those types of facilities.

That's how the system works.

Lee:"Make a list,... (Below threshold)

"Make a list, and amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to exempt those types of facilities."

Or they could do like a major railroad I worked for did. Just ban visits by "all".

I have never seen a kid's eyes shine as bright when they were allowed to board a real locomotive and then allowed to toot the whistle.

Yep, you guessed it. Some kid in a wheelchair and his lawyer approached the railroad, demanded access, and "that's the end of that story".

Just punish 'em all and allow the lawsuit industry to rule. I have a nephew, 25 years old, wheelchair bound since birth and he would never, ever "demand" to be treated as an equal. He knows he's not. He is very self-sustaining, wheelchair races, drives, etc. He doesn't think he's handicapped.

Apparently there already is... (Below threshold)

Apparently there already is an exception that probably applies. From wiki:

The standard is whether "removing barriers" (typically defined as bringing a condition into compliance with the ADAAG) is "readily achievable," defined as "easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense."

Lee simply lacks common sen... (Below threshold)

Lee simply lacks common sense...but that does not surprise me.

5 CVs and CVNs in 20 years ... (Below threshold)
Glenn M. Cassel,AMH1(AW), USN, RET:

5 CVs and CVNs in 20 years as ships company and air wing. It is no place for anyone that is blind. When I first reported aboard Independence(CV62) in January 1974, I was lost for a long time. Beside, a Man-of-War that is ADA compliant is a paradox.

What passes for "common sen... (Below threshold)

What passes for "common sense" on right-wing blogs isn't always "common" - it's usually quite fringe - and is rarely "sensical".

Blind Dude is attempting to exercise his/her rights, but it makes no sense to me to argue this issue in court -- why not just modify the Americans With Disabilities Act to exempt public facilities like this, when clearly a modification is needed (if it isn't exempted already under the Act).

Leaving it the courts to argue is plain stoopud. The only thing stoopuder would be to actually spend money making the JFK accessible and safe for the blind.

Last time I took relatives ... (Below threshold)

Last time I took relatives to Independence Hall in Philly, it was not handicap accessible.

Hey, it's open to the public. Sink an elevator shaft from the second floor!

Last time I checked, US Nav... (Below threshold)

Last time I checked, US Navy warships are NOT public places. It's the property of the US Navy. Being granted access, even on a short term basis, does NOT make it a public locale.

Buy a clue Lee.

Lee, fequently civil law do... (Below threshold)

Lee, fequently civil law does not apply to the military, and bluntly the Disabilities Act is one of them. No truck in the military is designed for handicap accessability, for example.

Having said that, I have been aboard a commissioned air craft carrier. I believe that with a little care and diligence the blind guy could have been escorted carefully to a couple of places on the ship, but not given a regular tour of the ship, as I agree that just isn't practical or safe. Sadly on a ship like the JFK, I can't think of a way to get him up to the flight deck save lifting him via one of the elevators from the hanger deck, I am am not sure that would be safe or practical.

I've already said there are... (Below threshold)

I've already said there are good reasons for an exemptions, ExSubNuke. An exemption for public places that are open to the public on a limited, temporary basis would also be a good exemption to have.

The problem with the ADA may be that it doesn't clearly spell out the exceptions to the rule, and therefore the disabled advocates have free reign to thrown up challenges like this. Just legislate exceptions to the ADA, and when some guy like this comes along it's easy to explain why it doesn't apply.

ADA has already butted with... (Below threshold)

ADA has already butted with the military and lost, big.

And by the way, a decomissioned warship can be made ADA complient with modification and allowing no tourists to enter unmodified areas. They have been.

Lee:"Make a li... (Below threshold)


"Make a list, and amend the Americans with Disabilities Act to exempt those types of facilities."

Good (?) idea Lee. However you do realize EVERY U.S. Navel ship is subject to visitations by civilians blind or otherwise. (Check the Portland OR's. Rose Festival and NYC's Fleet Week and many other opportunities)

There presently 276 ships in active service and more than 4,000 Naval aircraft (also subject to civilians sitting in their cockpits)

And lets add in all the U.S. Army tanks and other hardware. ETC...ETC.

Glad to see you think Congress should waste so much time amending the ADA regulation to "list" all this hardware.

But my advice is for you to quit making sorry assed excuses for an ignorant publicity stunt.

"Glad to see you think C... (Below threshold)

"Glad to see you think Congress should waste so much time amending the ADA regulation to "list" all this hardware."

"But my advice is for you to quit making sorry assed excuses for an ignorant publicity stunt."

A liberal would make a list like "all ships aircraft and vehicles owned by the military" and make it real easy - but conservative morons would try to make a list that include the serial number off of every jeep and tank - and then complain that it was just toooo hard, and start whining like a little child.

Good thing we don't have any of THOSE around here....

I am the person involved in... (Below threshold)
Mika Pyyhkala:

I am the person involved in this story. I would like to make several clarrifications:

1. The ship would not need to undergo rennovations or other changes to make it accessible to a person who is blind;
2. I am blind, and I do not have difficulty walking on stairs, steep stairs, ladders, escallators, revolving doors, etc. I have been in a number of unusual places, and am no more likely to get hurt. I down hill ski. Blind people climb mountains. When I was little I went up on the roof of my house with my father. This notion that blind people are so fragile and that we cannot climb up and down ladders is absurd. I have also been in a locomotive as a young child;
3. The biggest challenage people who are blind face in our society is not blindness itself, but the patronizing atitudes people have about perceived limitations of the blind.

I am confident I would have been able to navigate the ship, etc.

Below, please find updated NFB press release:

John G. Paré Jr.
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2371
(410) 913-3912 (Cell)
[email protected]
U.S. Navy Discriminates Against Blind Americans

Baltimore, Maryland (March 5, 2007): Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "The fact that a blind person was not permitted to tour the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy like other members of the public is a stain upon the good reputation of the United States Armed Forces. Members of the military are charged with defending the rights of all Americans, and for them to trample upon those rights instead is unacceptable. At the very least, United States Navy officials owe Mika Pyyhkala an apology for their conduct in this matter. The National Federation of the Blind will pursue all available legal remedies under the laws of the United States and the state of Massachusetts. Our intention is to send, loud and clear, the message that the blind will not tolerate discrimination against us in any aspect of life. If we allow the claim that we cannot visit an aircraft carrier that is open to the public, based on the patently fallacious justification that our doing so would be unsafe, to be made with impunity, we will next be told that we cannot visit a restaurant, or a school, or a park. Blind people work, play, and move about in the world as well as anyone, and we will not stand for being treated like small children."

# # #

About the National Federation of the Blind

With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people's lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence. It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation's blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.

My respects to you Mika Pyy... (Below threshold)

My respects to you Mika Pyyhkala, however:

I've been on the other side. Specifically on watch on the Quarterdeck of the U.S.S. England that was pierside in Portland OR for the Rose Festival.

A group of three blind people requested to tour the ship during that days open house hours. Being concerned for their safety I immediately contacted that days Command Duty Officer who made the decision to allow the visit and he provided sailors as escorts for them.

The same procedure has occured on many ships in the past and feel sure they well in the future.

However you and your shyster lawyer need to take a step back and address your complaints to those that specifically denied you entrance and not make some overblown "Federal Case" of the situation.

As it is, and whether true or not, it makes the entire incident look more agenda driven than any great concern over ship tours.

I have the names of the two... (Below threshold)
Mika Pyyhkala:

I have the names of the two officers who refused to allow me to board the ship on Sunday. However, in any sort of legal action, it would have to be brought against the entity that the representatives worked for. I mean, how can any action be brought against the two officers personally. It would be up to the Navy to deal with the officers individually. I will say I was surprised that once I spoke to an officer on Sunday that they did not allow me to board the ship.

A message needs to be sent that this form of discrimination will not be tollerated.

I have examined how the NFB is handling this, and I agree with the quotes they are entering in to the media. I believe that especially Dr. Maurer's quotes really speak to the nature of the issues we face as people who are blind.

"A message needs to be s... (Below threshold)

"A message needs to be sent that this form of discrimination will not be tollerated."

There was no discrimination. They acted in interest of your safety.

Once you realize that -- you must realize how misplaced a legal action would be over an incident like this.

No this can't be possible, ... (Below threshold)

No this can't be possible, but Lee just summed up my thoughts as well to Mr. Pyyhkala.

I can understand if all of ... (Below threshold)
Mika Pyyhkala:

I can understand if all of you are sick of reading my posts, but I thought I would share with you some posts from other email discussion lists in the blindness community. The excerpts below are from other blindness organization participants that

"Personally, I would love a private tour, but I don't think that's the point, and it's not my place to judge Mika's
intentions. The bottom line is that when he went as a member of the public, he was denied entrance, based solely on
the fact that he was blind, and based on outmoded ideas about the capabilities of blind people. The issue is not
the quality of the tour; the issue is discrimination, and discrimination (based solely on disability) is illegal.
That's the underpinning principle of the ADA, and it's what we all say we believe, so this is a good opportunity to
put up or shut up. If we believe what we say we believe, then we shouldn't be taken in by an after-the-fact offer
of a personal tour, for such a tour, without an accompanying apology, is nothing more than an attempt to appease
Mika without addressing the real issue. I hope we're not so gullible as to be taken in by such a weak gesture as
I would add that so far, neither Mika nor the NFB are asking for anything other than a public apology. True, there
may be more to come, but I think a public apology is in order, and that's not the same as a personal tour.
We need to remember the old adage that came from "Brown vs. Board of Education," because it' represents one of the
core values which drove the civil rights movements for Black Americans, other minority groups as well as people with
disabilities. "Separate is inherently not equal."

"A blind person has a right to request and receive reasonable accommodations but accommodations cannot be forced on
someone. It would have been appropriate for an officer to explain to Mika the types of hazards that were on the ship
and ask him if he required any assistance. If Mika declined the assistance, he should have been allowed on the ship
immediately at his own risk. If he accepted the assistance offer, the Navy would be required to accommodate him on a
reasonable basis. The argument would then shift to whether or not a separate tour on a different day is reasonable.
The ADA states that persons with disabilities are entitled to "equal benefit and equal participation". Certain
individuals with disabilities require accommodations to equally benefit and equally participate.
I submit that the core issue is whether or not Mika requested accommodations. Mika is free to determine for himself
whether he required accommodations or not. It is not anyone's place to determine that for him.
As we consider such issues, we should be very careful that our advocacy does not get interpreted as meaning that
individuals who are blind never need to be accommodated. The determination of whether or not we require
accommodations, is an individual decision and not one that we or ACB, or NFB or anyone can make for us. It is bad
enough that when it comes to sensory disabilities, the ADA is very ambiguous about what constitutes reasonable
accommodations. Let's not endanger our rights to request and receive reasonable accommodations by implying that
equal means without accommodation for all individuals who are blind in any given situation. This is a very slippery slope"

support the activity here. I will pick what I think are some of the more cogent points:

"As usual, you have posted a thoughtful comment that just makes common sense. While I, personally, probably would
have brought someone with me as a guide for the tour, there was no requirement or request made that people with
disabilities do that or call in advance to request assistance. Mika went to tour the ship as a taxpaying member of
the public. The Navy doesn't treat the money that it receives from people like he who are blind any differently
than all the other tax dollars they receive. It's none of our places to tell Mika how he should or should not have
handled this situation.

" I would think that it would be wise for the navy to do some serious
thinking about blind persons. With so many more people surviving this
"war", there might be a lot more blind folks around.

What makes you think a blind person would fall down anything. For once
the NFB has it right. We should not settle for "private tours".

BTW, i didn't hear any concerns about the narrow doroways for the wheel
chair people. What if they rolled off the deck? (not serious, of course)"

"Thanks, again, Ron, you are speaking what the law says, and the law protects blind people and other minorities from
discrimination which is usually based on fear and ignorance. Questioning the safety of the blind man attempting to
do what his fellow taxpaying citizens do, is his right, those who say otherwise are, to me, stating that they really
don't believe they are equal due to their blindness. Yes, saying so is one thing, but bashing him and the NFB are
that ugly fear coming up all over again. And, fear truly does make us behave in strange ways. If people don't want
to take risks due to their fear, that is their choice, but please do not impose your fears and perceived limitations"






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