How The TSA Perpetuates Harmful Mental Health Stigmas

Katie Rose Guest Pryal
The Establishment
Published in
7 min readMay 12, 2016

I travel a lot for work. I go to conferences, give talks, do readings. My mom told me, “You should sign up for TSA Pre-Check. It’ll makes things so much easier.”

That seemed right. The Pre-Check lines at airport security checkpoints aren’t always shorter. But at least I wouldn’t have to take my shoes off or unpack my luggage in a frantic rush by the conveyor belt with some grumpy dude behind me standing in his socks.

Pre-Check, according to the TSA, is an “expedited security screening program connecting travelers departing from airports within the United States with smarter security and a better air travel experience.” I didn’t know much about the smarter security, but I could do without the bare feet. So who qualifies for Pre-Check? “Passengers considered low-risk who qualify for the program can receive expedited screening either as a member of the program or another specific trusted traveler group [such as active-duty military].”

After my digging around on the matter, I decided to pay a ridiculous sum of money and do a bunch of invasive paperwork to make my life a little bit easier at airports.

And in the process, I discovered more about what exactly was meant by “low-risk.”


To get TSA Pre-Check certified, you go to this grimy yet official office — ours was located in a strip mall — where you wait in line for a while. Think the DMV, but federal. My husband and I went together, sitting side-by-side in the blue plastic chairs, waiting to give up some of our privacy and cash in exchange for convenience. The website told us what documentation to bring, and it said to set aside two hours for the process. They weren’t exaggerating.

When it was my turn to step behind the curtain and be interviewed, I encountered a man with a laptop and an array of secondary devices: document scanners, fingerprint scanners, cameras, and more. He scanned my fingers. He took my picture. He scanned my many documents. It was all very Minority Report. Then he asked me to complete a short survey on a computer. The survey contained six total questions, the last of which was:

“6. Have you ever been found by a court or other lawful authority as lacking mental capacity or involuntarily…

Katie Rose Guest Pryal
The Establishment

IPPY-award-winning author, keynote speaker, professor of law and creative writing. #ActuallyAutistic. She/Her.