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Six airport initiatives launched for disabled passengers

Self-driving wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport.


Airports are becoming increasingly accommodating towards passengers with disabilities, often with the help of technology.

GlobalData’s airport technology writer Varsha Saraogi lists six initiatives that airports implemented in 2019 to help make air travel an easier experience for disabled passengers.

Self-driving wheelchairs at Abu Dhabi International Airport
In a partnership with Etihad, personal electric vehicle supplier WHILL and information technology company SITA, Abu Dhabi International Airport launched autonomous wheelchairs that allow travellers with reduced mobility to move around the airport without the assistance of a staff member.

These vehicles are equipped with sensors to identify obstructions and offers an automatic stop function. In addition, the airport is working towards developing other features to be rolled out in the future, which include real-time gate and boarding time updates for guests.

Those who are not comfortable with the autonomous wheelchair can choose the traditional assistance method and have airport personnel help them.

Boise Airport capitalises on virtual reality
Travelling can be challenging for children and adults with autism as the entire process before boarding an aircraft makes them feel quite anxious, according to autism charity Autism Speaks.

To help passengers with autism navigate the airport environment before going in person, the city of Boise in Idaho, US collaborated with Boise State University to create a virtual reality experience. Apart from being available at the airport itself, the VR experience can also be used at the Boise Library before passengers visit the airport.

United Airlines hires special Olympics athletes as ambassadors
In October 2019, United Airlines hired special employees to help disabled travellers navigate O’Hare International Airport. The airline also aims to motivate them to be more independent in mainstream society.

In a statement, United Airlines said that it is promoting the idea that employing people with disabilities has a positive influence on a company’s success. This move would then motivate people with disabilities to become more comfortable when travelling via air, the airline said.

Cork Airport introduces sunflower lanyard scheme
In March this year, Cork Airport initiated a lanyard scheme where people with hidden disabilities – autism spectrum disorder, epilepsy and acquired brain injuries – are able to easily ask for extra support when travelling through Cork Airport with the help of a lanyard.

The ‘Sunflower Lanyard’ initiative, already in use in airports including Heathrow and Gatwick, allows passengers to discreetly identify themselves to staff. The project is part of an initiative by OCS, the global passenger assistance services provider.

Sea-Tac International improves signage and introduces induction loops
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in the US announced new services in October 2019 to make travel more accessible and less stressful for those with hidden disabilities.

It implemented initiatives such as sunflower lanyards and installed hearing loops and improved its design with new curb cuts to make the structure more conducive to PRM.

Gatwick’s new training programmes for staff
Gatwick Airport has come a long way since it was named as one of the worst airports in providing access for disabled travellers by the CAA in 2018.

In October 2019, Gatwick announced an independent panel – comprising experts in the travel needs of disabled passengers – to help shape Gatwick’s accessibility strategy and improve services for disabled passengers.

Gatwick Airport claimed that it became the first UK airport to open a sensory room after a consultation with the National Autistic Society. It said it upgraded its infrastructure to accommodate blind and visually impaired passengers with the assistance of a tool provided by the Royal National Institute of Blind.

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Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales.

She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.