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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