More than 1,000 blind people picketed the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters here yesterday in a noisy, spirited protest against FAA regulations requiring blind passengers to surrender canes when flying on commercial airlines.
"This is not a game - we are raising cane," shouted the sign-waving crowd in front of the FAA building at 800 Independence Ave. SW.
"One, two, three, four, we won't take it anymore. Five, six, seven, eight, FAA discriminates."
Old and young, men and women, some in jeans, some in suits, they marched in a long oval line on the sidewalk, tapping canes in rhythm with their chants.
FAA officials watched somberly from the steps of the building as the long-brewing issue of canes on planes was brought to their doorstep. The FAA contends the canes, measuring 4 1/2 feet to 6 feet long, are potential safety hazards in an emergency and must be surrendered to a flight attendant and stowed away.
"Hogwash . . . garbage," said Ralph Sanders, president of the National Federation of the Blind, during yesterday's demonstration.
"We are tired of this cruel discrimination against blind people," said Jim Gashel, Washington office director for the federation, which sponsored the demonstration. "To surrender our canes is demaning and degrading . . . it makes us second-class citizens."
The question of the canes is entwined in the well known FAA regulation requiring airline passengers to place all carry-on luggage under their seats or have it stowed in a baggage closet by flight attendants. Canes for the blind are considered carry-on luggage, according to the FAA.
"They could block or trip other passengers in an emergency or become a projectile on sudden impact," FAA spokesman John Layden said in a telephone interview yesterday.
FAA officials and representatives of the National Federation of the Blind and other groups have met periodically over the last several years to negotiate a compromise on the canes, but no agreement has been reached.
FAA deputy administrator Quentin Taylor met with a delegation of the blind last week and, according to Layden, promised further research on the issue by the FAA's Civil Aero-Medical Institute in Oklahoma City.
Layden said the research will include further study of telescope or folding canes and brackets to hold the canes on seats within easy reach of blind passengers.
Demonstrators yesterday indicated general approval of seat brackets but said telescopic canes are undependable and often collapse.