Airports Embracing Hidden Disabilities

Dome shaped airport with roads and tubes for trains


On the Spectrum. Once those three little words label a child, youth or adult, a new journey begins. A voyage, steps into the unknown world of a vast horizon. Those who guide these unique individuals always face one certain element: problems. We do know with the wonderful progress in today’s world though, problems are overcome too and progress is made. Just like similarities exist in behavior or traits for those that have disabilities, solutions exist too in terms of inclusion, exposure and motivational reinforcements.

In terms of exposure, we all deserve to see more, travel and learn. The pandemic taught us that being motionless within your vicinity on a mirror’s edge does not instill any improvement. We should never allow a mind or soul to deplete itself of the joys of traveling, learning and growing.

A mother traveling recently to London was pleasantly surprised when she discovered a pamphlet pertaining to “Assistance and Accessibility for Passengers with Disabilities”. The transparent layer of anxiety of possible hassles and hurdles was immediately peeled away as Heathrow Airport offered an abundance of information on the topic.

More importantly, in conjunction with Heathrow’s charity partners, a series of guides showing you what to expect at all of the different stages of the journey have been established. They include quiet areas to relax, as well as where you can find help in the airport if you require assistance on the day of travel. These simple guides are available not only online but also at each terminal for both arrivals and departures.

Here are some of the key examples that aid and align for an easy travel experience:

You have the option of informing your airline, tour operator or travel agent of your particular need at the time of booking, or at least 48 hours before your travel. Arrangements can be made easily, especially with as much notice given as possible.

Your particular needs are not restricted either while alerting the airport. They can range from an assistant dog to your own mobility equipment.

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More importantly, in conjunction with Heathrow’s charity partners, we have produced a series of guides showing you what to expect at all of the different stages of the journey. They include quiet areas to relax, as well as where you can find help in the airport if you require assistance on the day.

There are assistance help points for all those traveling with a disability or mobility difficulties. They are placed in various locations all throughout the airport, centered in plain sight of the travelers. The passenger can also find a map of these on the website which we will insert here as well, so the reader has a clear view of how visually effective these can be when carried along.

As stated online, at Heathrow they understand all passengers are unique and they do offer different levels of support tailored to those passengers’ needs. For a hidden disability such as autism, dementia or anxiety, help is always at hand at the airport. Heathrow has specially-trained staff that will take care of such a person responsibly.

For example, anyone with autism or dementia can let the airport know to take special care of them by wearing a sunflower lanyard. Such lanyards are available upon request and at the airport terminals themselves. Wearing such a sunflower lanyard at Heathrow enables staff and employees to recognise a passenger with a hidden disability without needing to declare it. This allows for easier travel independently through the airport whilst knowing that if you need any additional support during your journey, there is an alertness amongst members. The lanyard is free and can be reused as well for future travels.

Hence Heathrow is standing out as an airport that operates an Assistance Service in every terminal to help people with not one but a range of disabilities and health conditions (both visible and non-visible) The common assumption exists that at an airport, there are staff that only assist with mobility issues, as the visual emphasis is on the wheelchairs and buggies. To know that the scope is beyond it assures safety and security to all passengers with any disabilities.

Upon further research you will find that other airports, even though unfortunately not as yet all, but definitely more and more are introducing such measures for people with disability. The Changi airport at Singapore is one of them, and it doesn’t just start and end with assistance for persons with reduced disability. That general norm of course is still existent, with staff and wheelchairs being there for you from requesting mobility equipment, getting to and from the airport as well as immigration and security screening.

woman walking through bridge Heathrow Airport

But in addition, Changi airport also offers assistance now to people with invisible disabilities. Here are a few examples of these means and they can also be found on their informative website.

Traveling and navigating through an airport or any unfamiliar environment for that matter can be quite challenging for the neurodiverse. What helps in these situations is to be prepared and theoretically familiarize yourself with the journey beforehand. The upcoming circumstances are what might not be known but Changi airport has partnered with Rainbow Centre to develop the Changi Airport Social Story. This tool is similar to a slideshow that demonstrates each stage of the journey in comprehensive pictures and words. As mentioned above, it is available online via their website and it outlines both the departure and arrival processes.

Changi Airport, just like Heathrow, also offers the usage of the sunflower lanyard for those traveling with an invisible disability such as anxiety, autism, dementia, etc.. Additionally, they also have a Land Transport Authority’s “May I Have a Seat Please” lanyard. This can be viewed as a subtle or an indiscreet way to indicate, especially to the airport staff, that you may need a little more help or time when going through the airport processes. You may collect a lanyard from any of the Passenger Service Centers/Offices at MRT stations, bus interchanges and TransitLink Ticket Offices. Links for them are also provided on their website.

Last, but not the least, staff popularly labeled as Staff Ambassadors can always be approached for assistance at Changi airport in Singapore. They are selected meticulously and have been trained by Rainbow Center to assist with those that travel with hidden disabilities. They are easily recognized and identified through the badges they wear.

Nowadays neurodiverse assistance is not a luxury, but a necessity that needs to be addressed with the same support, care and concern as medical assistance. It is vital that we all be aware of this fact so that we can chip in as well whenever needed. This is particularly essential at busy places such as an airport, where crowds, lights, noises and other elements can be very overwhelming.

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“Making the Skies Friendlier for Everyone” is a motto for The Arc’s Wings for Autism®/Wings for All (Wings). This is a program that provides families and aviation professionals training that includes “rehearsals” as well as presentations on aircraft features and various protocols to successfully prepare them for the journey ahead. It was created by Charles River Center, an affiliated chapter of The Arc, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Port Authority. The beauty of this program lies in the fact that it is for both the aviation professional as well as individuals and their families. Various events are held for preparation and teaching methodologies.

What exactly is this airline autism program and why does it matter? How can you help? All these aspects are answered beautifully on their website www.thearc.org

Basically in a gist, the program helps alleviate some of the stress that people with autism or other invisible disabilities face when traveling by air. This is done by providing the opportunity to experience and learn how such individuals will react, cope and deal with different stimuli in the airport. A fulfilled life for anyone on the spectrum includes being in the community and therefore being able to travel to faraway locations for both work and pleasure. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve it so much and they should be able to navigate air transit comfortably. There should not be any barriers that lead to hesitation or fear.

Non-visible disabilities need to be addressed as well, especially in today’s world where the awareness has increased and as well as the disability impacts. Anyone is entitled for help while traveling, whether it is a person with equipment or with dementia.

It always starts with the parent, the guardian or the traveler himself. Never be afraid to ask! Security and body scanners can cause reactions and anxiety. Research participants have done their job in making sure that the right people are there to help. It is a huge inclusive support to know that a place as an airport is there for passengers with disabilities beyond what was the norm before. Stress free travel can be achieved for anyone. A fixation on the simplicity of the passengers’ needs is important in public places. Though every individual may be different and have various abilities, and disabilities, the requirements to them can blend cohesively into simple provisions of assistance and help.

We do hope that over time, more such circular awareness causes customers with disabilities to attain help in the right way at common yet unpredicted places and times.

heathrow.com

changiairport.com

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