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I am a totally blind traveller. I have always flown within the US for the last four years, usually getting assistance from airport staff and sky caps. Whether they are airline employees or airport employees, I know not.

However, I am set to travel abroad for the very first time. I would like to know if there might be any accessibility problems I might encounter with the declaration forms, or using any kiosk that might not have built-in screen reader support. I plan on buying a few things, like souvenirs and food, outside of the US, and into the US. I know that in the US, all public entities are required to make things accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I don't know about Mexico or Canada, two places I am travelling to. What things might make it easier for me to clear through customs?

  • Are you travelling alone, and/or with a service animal? – doctordonna Mar 3 '18 at 0:18
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    Yes, and no. I am using a service called aira.io to get augmented reality guidance, though. – HeavenlyHarmony Mar 3 '18 at 0:37
  • I sent my blind friend to England and Ireland with no problem. And she had only recently lost her sight, so wasn’t accustomed to it. She did however, have problems due to also not being able to use stairs. – WGroleau Mar 3 '18 at 5:08
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I have a blind friend who travels to the US fairly frequently, and often alone by air. She has no troubles.

Typically you can register as a passenger requiring assistance when you buy your airline ticket. When you arrive at the airport where you will clear customs, an airline employee will escort you to the customs and immigration line and help you see an officer, then get you through security again (if necessary) if you have a connecting flight.

She primarily flies Air Canada, but has also flown WestJet, Delta and United. Other airlines likely provide similar services.

  • Did she encounter any kiosks that scanned any declaration of goods? Was she able to get assistance in filling out the form while in the flight? I read that you have to indicate how much you spent for buying different kinds of goods. – HeavenlyHarmony Mar 3 '18 at 0:54
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    Where she used kiosks, the attendant went through the questions with her. When she declared to a person, she answered her own questions. Yes, you do have to disclose what you've purchased. Most countries will allow you to import a certain amount of goods tax- and duty-free. Generally you always have to declare alcohol, tobacco, food and weapons. Most countries have good websites that dictate what you can import, e.g. - help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/1239/~/….. – Jim MacKenzie Mar 3 '18 at 1:00
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    "help you see an officer": phrasing.... – Nate Eldredge Mar 3 '18 at 1:30
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    @NateEldredge I have two blind friends, and neither takes offense to using the word "see" in senses when the meaning isn't entirely visual. Consider it here to be a synonym for "interact with". – Jim MacKenzie Mar 3 '18 at 1:33
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    I just checked the CBP web site and it is Web-accessibility-compliant in accordance with W3C Guidelines. I'll have to check out the other two. – HeavenlyHarmony Mar 3 '18 at 14:58
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I'm not sure if you were asked to remove your Aira device at security in the US. This may be something to bring up with staff when checking in, and again in line since electronics need to be scanned and you want to ensure your device remains undamaged.

Regarding Canada only:

Sadly, Canada currently only has 3 provinces with Accessibility Laws (British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia). Canada is set to introduce the new law this spring. Despite us being behind the times, this does not mean you will not receive assistance at travel points.

This government site on Accessible Travel claims that all transportation systems are opening up accessibility. (www.otc-cta.gc.ca)

Canada's transportation system is open to all. More and more, the companies that move people across Canada are finding ways to meet the needs of travellers with disabilities.

If you're not sure who handles what, give us a call at 1-888-222-2592 or by TTY at 1-800-669-5575. Or send us an e-mail at info@otc-cta.gc.ca. We'll point you in the right direction.

On the Finding Information link on the Accessible Travel page:

The Personnel Training for the Assistance of Persons with Disabilities Regulations require transportation companies to train their employees and contracted personnel on how to provide services to persons with disabilities.

The standards should be respected everywhere, but they are not a service guarantee. Your best approach is to ask your transportation company for details about how it will meet your needs.

This site also suggests getting in touch 48 hrs in advance with any transportation companies about any needs or assistance (early seating, travelling with/without support person, etc). According to Air Canada and West Jet require 48 hrs notice and to confirm when you check in. Via Rail merely says to approach staff.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) site further supports Jim MacKenzie's experience: (www.catsa.gc.ca)

Visually impaired passengers

If you would like assistance, please inform the screening officer when you arrive at the checkpoint. Upon request, supervisors at major Canadian airports are available to provide you with verbal and physical guidance through all steps in the screening process.

Visually impaired passengers and their service animals can pass through the walk-through metal detector either separately or together. Or, you can choose to bypass the walk-through metal detector and use alternate screening options, such as the use of a hand-held metal detector, a full body scanner or physical search.

Though not relevant since you're flying in, I went a bit further to see if the Canada Border Services Agency has special services and zilch. Other than a TTY phone number, I could not find anything.

  • I wasn't using Aira at the time I was travelling in the US. I was using another service on my iPhone called Be My Eyes. I generally do not need to use my electronics while going through security. It is only before and after that I would need to use it. And, I don't know if I'd have to go through security check when I arrive at my destination for the customs part of it. – HeavenlyHarmony Mar 3 '18 at 1:26
  • @HeavenlyHarmony You'll clear security after customs only a) if you are connecting to another flight at that airport, and b) if that country and that airport require it. e.g. passengers flying from the US to Canada through Calgary do not have to re-clear security after clearing Canada Customs & Immigration. – Jim MacKenzie Mar 3 '18 at 1:31
  • I'd be very surprised if the device was damaged by being put through an X-ray machine. I can't think of a single consumer electronic device that would have problems. – David Richerby Mar 3 '18 at 12:41
  • Yes, I would be as well. I'm Worst Case Scenario Wanda thinking about if security handles the device or the bin holding electronics badly. I'm sure security would not have a reason to touch it or the Aira has a protective case but some items are not easily replaced when you're travelling. – doctordonna Mar 5 '18 at 23:52

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