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Advocates for Deaf Sue Burbank Airport

June 15, 2004|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Advocates for the deaf filed a class-action lawsuit against Burbank's Bob Hope Airport on Monday, accusing the facility of failing to provide for the needs of hearing-impaired passengers.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in downtown Los Angeles, alleges that the airport lacks such amenities as visual monitors for announcing emergencies and a sufficient number of text telephones, or TTYs, for the deaf, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

"We've been waiting so long for airports to face up to their responsibilities," said Patricia Hughes, chief executive of Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness Inc., through a sign-language interpreter at a Burbank news conference. "It's frustrating."

Airport officials said they've already begun looking into how assistance to their deaf patrons can be improved.

Both sides said they had hoped to avoid litigation.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Kevin Knestrick, said he sent a letter nearly two weeks ago to airport officials. The letter advised that if the situation faced by hearing-impaired passengers did not improve, there could be a lawsuit, said Knestrick, a staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit group based in Oakland.

Knestrick said he had not received a response.

Charles Lombardo, president of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, said he would like to improve services for hearing-impaired passengers. In a letter to Knestrick dated June 9, he wrote that he had ordered a review of the airport's facilities and would keep Knestrick apprised of progress.

"I'm sorry they brought litigation," Lombardo said. "We are making the changes that they pointed out .... I'm sorry if it wasn't as fast as they wanted."

Knestrick said the purpose of the lawsuit is not to seek damages but to obtain a court order to compel the airport to add amenities and improve training. He said his organization filed a similar lawsuit two years ago against San Francisco International Airport, and the group and airport are in settlement negotiations.

Hughes and two other hearing-impaired advocates recounted numerous problems they said they recently encountered at Bob Hope Airport. Included were not being notified about last-minute flight changes, an inability to use courtesy phones to book rental cars and unhelpful or rude employees.

Hughes said airport security personnel sometimes not only scrutinize her text pager during passenger screening but also read her personal messages. "They're not asking hearing people to listen to their cell phone messages," she said.

Airport spokesman Victor Gill said some of the inadequacies may not be the airport's fault. It is up to the airlines to decide how to disseminate flight information, and security personnel work for the Transportation Security Administration, a federal agency, he said.

But Knestrick, the plaintiffs' attorney, replied: "It's the airport's responsibility to make sure its tenants comply with the ADA as well."

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