UK Airports improving service for children with ASD

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Guest article by Will Davies of Fubra Limited.  Fubra is a small creative technology company located in Hampshire, England.   It runs many websites including Airport Parking Shop and the UK Airport Guides Network.  Recently, it was brought to Fubra’s attention that accessibility at airports for people with disabilities or special needs was something that needed improving and so they decided to create features relating to disabilities and special needs at the airport to spread awareness. So far these have included – looking at facilities across 22 UK airports and adding them to each airport guide, Changing Places Facilities at UK airports and Autism at the airport. This article looks at how UK airports are improving their services for children with autism.


In years gone by, many parents with children on the Autistic spectrum would have avoided airports like the plague! Whilst it may be true that airports (and planes) aren’t a great place for Autistic children, due to the large crowds, long cues and boredom that can occur whilst on long flights; parents whose children suffer from the disorder cannot be expected to never take their child abroad, after all, they need to see the world too!

This is something that a few UK airports have really taken on board, there may still be a long way to go but it’s great to see some of them making an effort! Manchester Airport is probably the stand out – the airport have created individual booklets for each terminal, videos to help guide parents through the whole process and brightly coloured wristbands to help fast track ASD children (beating the long queues that can cause problems). Gatwick have also got on board with the booklets but it’s clear to see that Manchester have really had a good think about the situation and they even managed to get Keith Duffy (former Boyzone member) to feature in a few of their videos! He has been campaigning for Autism awareness since his daughter was diagnosed at 18 months.

Edinburgh Airport have recently partnered with Scottish Autism in a bid to improve the experience for ASD children at the airport. Families can now book pre-flight visits in order for the child to familiarise themselves with the airport and see how things work.

Airport Parking Shop have put together a really handy piece of content that gives parents some tips on how to keep ASD children occupied at the airport and on the plane; it also looks at things you should consider before setting off for the airport. If you’re travelling from the UK with any other disabilities then be sure to check out the Heathrow Airport Guide, they have a dedicated page for special assistance at the airport and other airports can be accessed from the bottom of the page.

Follow on Twitter: @Fubra @airportparkshop @HeathrowTweets @CP_Consortium @manairport @Gatwick_Airport @KeithDuffyExp @EDI_Airport @scottishautism


Edinburgh Airport hosts guide dog training day

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Puppy handlers at airport picture from Edinburgh Airport website

The cuteness factor hit new levels at Edinburgh Airport recently as 12 trainee guide dog puppies descended on the terminal for a training day.   The pups, aged between six and 15 months, arrived at the terminal with their volunteer puppy walkers to take part in a full airport walkthrough from arriving at the check-in hall, to going through security and into the departure lounge.   Part of the airport’s wider “Travelling with Additional Needs” programme, the terminal team invited the group from Guide Dogs Scotland along for the special training session which allows the puppies to gain crucial experience of a busy airport environment.

With over 520 registered guide dog owners in Scotland and many being regular air travellers, it’s vital that the puppies are trained for their future role as guide dogs as they have to be ready to deal with all eventualities and get used to busy places.  Sarah Gardiner, Head of Terminal Operations at Edinburgh Airport, said: “We’re very pleased to welcome the guide dog puppies and their handlers into the airport today so we can help give them valuable training for their future.

The “Travelling with Additional Need” programme was launched  a year ago and the airport has worked hard with Terminal and Security teams to better understand the complex requirements that some passengers may have.  “We realise that each passenger is unique and may have different requirements so that’s why we’ve been working hard to understand the complex types of barriers which can stop people from being able to fly”, said Gardiner.  “We firmly believe that everyone who wants to fly can fly and we’re committed to making sure all of our passengers have the best experience possible. We have an amazing team here at Edinburgh Airport and we’ll continue to work to ensure our services are of the highest standard.”

David Smith of Guide Dogs Scotland, said: “Fully qualified guide dogs are required to face a variety of settings and situations with calmness and confidence, and early tastes of different environments will see them experienced for later life.”   The puppies experienced a number of situations, traveling by public transport such as trains, buses and trams, before experiencing the airport environment.  “We’re keen to expose the pups to the experience of going through security and all that it entails, such as being handled by different people, having their lead and collar removed and going through the scanner”, said Smith.  “It’s a good experience for the pups to get used to the sights, sounds and smells of the airport so it shouldn’t bother them later when they are fully trained guide dogs helping people with sight loss to lead independent lives.

Edinburgh Airport is Scotland’s busiest airport. More than 40 airlines serve 100-plus destinations and 9.78 million passengers a year passed through the airport in 2013 – the busiest year ever for a Scottish airport.

Source: Edinburgh Airport.  Follow on Twitter: @EDI_Airport @guidedogsedin

Canada: New accessibility standard for self-service kiosks in air, ferry and train terminals

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Canadian Flag

From December 31, 2016, any newly installed automated self-service kiosks used for such things as check in, printing of boarding passes and baggage tags at Canadian air, ferry and train terminals should be accessible to travellers with disabilities, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that 25% of kiosks are accessible by December 31, 2022.   This is the expectation of the Canadian Transportation Agency’s (CTA) recently amended Code of Practice: Removing Communication Barriers for Travellers with Disabilities. The standard is harmonized with the new United States Department of Transportation (DOT) rule published late last year, providing greater predictability and consistency across North America for travellers with disabilities.

The standard was developed based on input received during consultations with CTA’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, which consists of representatives from associations representing the interests of persons with disabilities, major Canadian airlines, passenger railway companies, ferry operators, as well as with air industry stakeholders and the Canadian Airports Council.  A two-year implementation period gives manufacturers time to design, test and produce kiosks which feature updated hardware and software accessibility standards. The standards address issues such as height, position of monitors, touch screen functions, audio accessories, document readers, and warning tones.

The standard applies to the following terminals and carriers:

  • Airports within the National Airports System linking Canada from coast to coast;
  • Canadian air carriers that operate aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats;
  • Rail carriers and terminals serving 10,000 or more passengers yearly; and
  • Ferry operators and terminals in respect of vessels of 1,000 gross tonnes or more between provinces or between Canada and the United States every year.

“Persons with disabilities have a right to access automated self-service kiosks independently, safely and securely,” said Geoff Hare, Chair and CEO of CTA. “Our experience has shown that the Agency’s voluntary standards approach is effective in increasing the accessibility of the federal transportation network for persons with disabilities.”  The CTA will conduct periodic surveys to monitor the progress in implementing the Code.  Reports on the findings of these monitoring surveys will be provided to the Accessibility Advisory Committee.  In addition to these surveys, the Agency will also undertake periodic reviews of the Code. Any problems identified will be presented to the Accessibility Advisory Committee for consultation and any proposed amendments will be distributed to the public for comment.

Independent of this process, the Agency will also continue to exercise its authority to deal with individual complaints to determine whether there are undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities.

Source: CTA website; Accessibility News International.  Follow on Twitter: @CTA_gc  @AcNewsca

UK CAA new tougher airport, airline disabilities information provision requirements

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The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recently set tougher requirements on airports and airlines concerning information they must provide disabled passengers (   Requirements concern

  • making essential information available to consumers in an accessible format
  • information should be provided on a single web page one click away from the home page of the operator’s website or on webpages directly accessible from a single ‘landing’ webpage one click away from the home page
  • content should be presented in a clear and easy to understand way and accessible for passengers with impairments such as blindness or low vision, deafness or hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, restricted movement, photosensitivity or any combination of these.
  • the design of websites should take into consideration existing international guidelines on website accessibility
  • airports must publish information on the assistance provided at the airport and how to obtain this assistance;  information on the layout of the airport, on quality standards and airport security,  handling of mobility equipment and assistance dogs, the telephone number and opening hours of the airport’s helpline for enquiries from Passengers with Reduced Mobility and other disabilities, and information on how to complain.

Airlines must publish information on:

  • safety restrictions
  • seating on-board
  • fitness to fly
  • when a carer will be required
  • accessibility and use of lavatories, and
  • compensation for damaged or lost mobility devices.

“This is a giant leap forward in terms of quality, quantity, and accessibility of information available to passengers with disabilities,” Reduced Mobility Rights Director Roberto Castiglioni said ( 

Airports and airlines have until 31st October 2014 to comply with the new requirements. The UK CAA told operators it may take formal enforcement action to ensure compliance under sections 86 and 87 of the Civil Aviation Act 2012. This may include imposing a penalty or seeking a court injunction against operators not in compliance with the new rules. 

Source: Reduced Mobility Rights. Follow on Twitter: @ReducedMobility @UK_CAA

UK CAA tightens information rules for disabled passengers

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Plane in flight

The United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recently set tougher requirements on airports and airlines operating flights to and from the UK concerning information they must provide disabled passengers.  Requirements concern making essential information available to consumers in an accessible format. Information should be provided on a single web page one click away from the home page of the operator’s website or on webpages directly accessible from a single ‘landing’ webpage one click away from the home page.  Content should be presented in a clear and easy to understand way and accessible for passengers with impairments such as blindness or low vision, deafness or hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, restricted movement, photosensitivity or any combination of these.

Airports must publish information on the following: assistance provided at the airport and how to obtain this assistance; layout of the airport; quality standards and airport security; handling of mobility equipment and assistance dogs; telephone number and opening hours of the airport’s helpline for enquiries from Passengers with Reduced Mobility and other disabilities; and information on how to complain.  They must also provide information on safety restrictions; seating on-board; fitness to fly; when a carer will be required; accessibility and use of lavatories; and compensation for damaged or lost mobility devices.

“This is a giant leap forward in terms of quality, quantity, and accessibility of information available to passengers with disabilities,” Reduced Mobility Rights Director Roberto Castiglioni said. “In a perfect world, we would like to see information made available to consumers in a printed format at PRM lounges and assistance desks across airports.”

Airports and airlines have until 31st October 2014 to comply with the new requirements, or they may face formal enforcement action to ensure compliance and/or face a penalty or court injunction.

Source: Reduced Mobility Rights.  Follow on Twitter: @UK_CAA @ReducedMobility

Edinburgh Airport first in Scotland to develop support toolkit for passengers with additional needs

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Logo of Edinburgh airport from the airport website

In the first project of its kind in Scotland, Edinburgh Airport has launched a support package to help passengers with autism and other additional support needs travel through the airport.  Working closely with the charity Scottish Autism, the airport’s corporate charity partner for 2014, and disability equality group Wideaware, Edinburgh Airport has developed the ‘Travelling with Additional Needs’ toolkit as part of a wider support package to help passengers and their families better cope with the what can be a daunting task of navigating their way through a busy airport.  The toolkit is made up of a series of factsheets, each tailor-made to focus on the different parts of the airport journey which may be particularly stressful, for example checking in and going through security. The factsheets are available to view, download and print from the airport’s website at

The factsheets provide an easy step-by-step airport guide and aim to help passengers prepare for what to expect within an airport. The toolkit will be supported by hands-on initiatives including advance walk-throughs for passengers who may be on the autism spectrum, in a wheelchair, or even someone who may not have been in an airport before.   If passengers feel that they would prefer to discuss their journey in more detail, they can contact the team at Edinburgh Airport who can help familiarise them with the airport and its usual operations.   Text versions of the factsheets are also available for passengers with visual and hearing impairments and work is underway to develop a wider support package for wheelchair users.

The airport is also working with airlines, such as easyJet and British Airways, to help facilitate bespoke courses for people with a fear of flying.   David Wilson, Chief Operating Officer at Edinburgh Airport, said: “We realise that each passenger is unique and may have different requirements so that’s why we’ve been working hard to understand the complex types of barriers which can stop people from being able to fly.   We’ve taken on board expert advice so we can remove these barriers and show that travelling through Edinburgh Airport can be an enjoyable experience. Our specially designed toolkit and the wider support package have been specifically designed for those passengers who may need a little bit of help or reassurance before they fly, whether that is information on where to find their check in desk or how to use a self-service machine.”  Wilson went on to say “We firmly believe that everyone who wants to fly can fly and we’re committed to making sure all of our passengers have the best experience possible. We have an amazing team here at Edinburgh Airport and we’ll continue to work to ensure our services are of the highest standard.”

Charlene Tait, Director of Development at Scottish Autism, said: “We know of many people living with autism who, along with their families, are disenfranchised from air travel because they simply cannot cope with the stress and trauma of an airport.  The busy nature of airports with crowds, queues, security checks and the accompanying noises can be overwhelming for people with autism who often have an adverse reaction to a unique and unpredictable environment which they cannot control.  This new initiative with Edinburgh Airport is a great starting point in trying to change this situation. The toolkit and other support measures have the potential to really help people with autism and other support needs by making them more aware of what they can expect in an airport environment and help them prepare in advance.”

Maria Zedda, Director at Wideaware, said: “”At Wideaware we’ve had the opportunity to work with many transport providers but this is the first time we’ve been able to provide advice on the production of disability-friendly factsheets. This is a fantastic initiative from Edinburgh Airport.   The factsheets will help passengers with a range of impairments and provide crucial information on what to expect when arriving at the airport and using its facilities.   I am so impressed with this initiative. In a profit-driven world of public transportation that often excludes disabled people, it’s great to see Edinburgh Airport working so hard to ensure all of their passengers have a good experience.”

Edinburgh Airport is Scotland’s busiest airport. More than 40 airlines serve 100-plus destinations and 9.78 million passengers a year passed through the airport in 2013 – the busiest year ever for a Scottish airport.

Source: Press release.  Follow on Twitter: @EDI_Airport @scottishautism @wideaware @easyJet @British_Airways

Five Safe-Travel tips for People with Disabilities

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Guest article by Rohit Agarwal, an architect by profession and the owner of Trans India Travels.  Rohit is a dedicated travel enthusiast who likes to explore various places around the world.

Woman in a wheelchair on an escalator picture provided by Rohit Argawal


Travelling is an essential part of our lives. While it is now practiced widely as a recreational activity, most of us travel for various other circumstances. One of the most cumbersome situations relating to travel is when travelling with a disability or with a disabled.  This situation is troublesome for both the disabled and the caretaker and special care needs to be taken by both. It is not common for a disabled person to practice independent or recreational travel, but it is easily possible if certain careful measures are taken. The following tips will help you take care of yourself or the disabled travelling with you making vacations and recreational trips not only possible but a whole lot easier. If you’re fit to travel according to the physicians then you should be fit to travel alone and enjoy the fruits of independent travel.

1. Plan In Advance

Planning as far as you can is the key to easy travel. Making early reservations will not only ensure cheaper but also more comfortable travel. Advance booking will ensure you get the best options according to your preference. Many airlines allow just one wheelchair per flight so make sure it is yours by booking in advance. Make sure you do a proper research about your destination before making any reservations and ensure that the hotels and the cities you’re checking in and visiting have the proper facilities for the disabled.

2. Careful Packing Is A Must

Make sure you pack your medications or any other supplements properly and always carry a spare set. Keep one set where they can be easily accessed especially while on a plane, train or a bus. Many medicines are supposed to be kept at certain temperatures so make sure you have the required things like a cooler bag and a place to store them when you reach your destination. Make sure you keep your prescriptions handy in case you lose your medicines and would need to buy more. Make sure you specially request your physician to write the generic name of the medicine rather than the name of the brand or the product name on the prescription.

3. Taking Special Care During The Journey

Special care needs to be taken before the journey actually begins. Arriving early at the airport or the bus or the train station is a must and is advisable if you do not want to risk missing a flight, bus or the train. This not only ensures hassle free boarding but also help lower that pre-trip anxiety. During your journey make sure you have all your necessary equipment and medication handy. Take note of the closest and the most easily accessible washroom from your seat. Keep your foldable wheelchair or scooter handy but if not then label them clearly so they can be returned in case they’re lost.

4. Get Travel Insurance, if possible

Travel Insurance is a type of a health insurance which is supposed to cover the medical, financial and collateral loss occurred while travelling. There are various types of travel insurance plans available which cover national and international travel. Many insurance agencies also offer a temporary insurance that simply cover the losses incurred during a particular trip or journey that can be nation or international. It might cost you a few more dollars or your choice of currency but will ensure a hassle free travel and a relaxing trip.

5. Careful Planning While On Your Trip

It is necessary that you understand your own limits and do not try to expand them at a huge risk. Planning too many activities in less time can leave you exhausted and can threaten your condition. If it’s a vacation make sure that you spend more time relaxing than sightseeing and simply alternating the balance between rest and play. Do proper research about the various facilities you can avail in the city to help facilitate easy getting around. Carry important medicines and do not over tire yourself with more activities than you can handle.

Disability can be a small halt to your independent lifestyle especially when travelling. However, with careful planning it can be easily overcome and you can totally enjoy your trips and vacations without letting your ailment keep you away from the fun.

Follow on Twitter: @TransIndiaTrvls  On Google+

New Mobility magazine survey of wheelchair-user air travel

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Plane in flight

New Mobility magazine was launched in the USA in 1989 to serve an underserved readership – wheelchair users.  Founder Sam Maddox recognized that this group wanted more information on how to lead active, healthy lives.  In 2010, United Spinal Association acquired New Mobility as part of a series of mergers with grass-roots disability organizations, including National Spinal Cord Injury Association and UsersFirst. Today New Mobility, edited by Tim Gilmer, remains an independent editorial voice and continues to be recognized as the premier wheelchair lifestyle publication in the world.  New Mobility is running a short survey to explore the state of air travel for wheelchair users today.  This is because there have been many stories about wheelchair users being mistreated by Transport Security Administration (TSA) agents or forced to crawl across the tarmac.   With a view to improving air travel for wheelchair users, New Mobility wants to ascertain if this is typical, or if these incidents are few and far between.  They want to find out if some airlines are better than others for wheelchair users, and are also interested in how often equipment is damaged or destroyed by airlines.  The survey can be found here

USA: New air travel access rules will affect all airlines servicing the US, including Air New Zealand

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Arrival signs at airport

A new rule issued by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) will affect any airline servicing the US including New Zealand’s Air New Zealand.  The DOT ruling means that airlines servicing the US will need to improve access for people with disabilities or anyone else who needs it to core travel information and services on their websites and airport kiosks.  The rule is part of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and will come into effect on 12 December 2013. Airline website pages for booking and changing reservations will need to be accessible. Within two years, these pages must meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA, with entire website compliance required within three years.  US airlines that carry more than 10,000 passengers per year must ensure that all new automated check-in kiosks installed three or more years after the rule’s effective date meet access requirements ( The minimum requirement is for at least 25 per cent of kiosks in each location to be accessible. These goals must be met within ten years of the rule’s effective date.   The new federal regulation also requires ticket agents to provide applicable web-based fare discounts to customers with a disability who cannot use an agent’s websites. This ruling is required on or after 180 days of the regulation’s effective date of 12 December 2013.

In addition, DOT will allow airlines to choose between stowing wheelchairs in a cabin compartment on new aircraft or strapping them to a row of seats, an option that will ensure that two manual, folding wheelchairs can be transported at a time.

San Francisco International Airport: new disability awareness training

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San Francisco Airport building from the airport website

A new disability awareness programme for airport, airline and security employees has been launched at San Francisco International Airport (SFO Twitter @flySFO). Created in partnership with the San Francisco Chapters of The Arc San Francisco (@and the LightHouse (@lighthouse_sf) for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the video-based training includes information about the experiences of disabled passengers and is focused on providing a consistent level of sensitivity and respect for passengers with disabilities. The program has been developed to include a participant handout, and a manual, also published in Braille.  SFO previously had forms of disability training, but the thorough new programme now involves employees getting trained throughout the customer’s journey from curbside, to security checkpoints, to the gate.

Airport Director John L. Martin said that delivering great customer service requires teamwork. “By involving all customer-facing employees at SFO, we are demonstrating our commitment to provide the airport experience our disability community expects and deserves.”  The Arc San Francisco CEO Dr. Glenn Mattola said that navigating an airport, for anyone, can be difficult.  “The dream of flying—whether it’s to see family, attend a conference or take a dream vacation—should be an experience we all have access to, and with this disability training, SFO is making that possible.”

UN International Civil Aviation Organization new Manual on Access to Air Transport

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Aeroplane in flight

People with disabilities (PwDs) make up a significant and growing percentage of the world’s population and constitute the world’s largest minority. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that this number is increasing through population growth, medical advances and the ageing process.  Aviation, like all other transport modes, needs to recognise and accommodate this growing passenger segment.  The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) – which is a United Nations Specialized Agency – has published a new guide, the Manual on Access to Air Transport by Persons with Disabilities in which they point out that PwDs have the same international rights as other citizens, such as accessibility, and full and effective participation and inclusion in society, including freedom of movement and freedom of choice (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), articles 3.c and 3.f). Persons with disabilities should have equivalent access to air travel.

These international rights apply to air travel as to all areas of life. There have been many changes in the provision of accessible facilities and services to persons with disabilities in air transportation worldwide, and this trend requires renewed attention at an international level.  In keeping with the general obligations of States under the CRPD, to promote universal design, to provide accessible information, and to promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities (article 4, paragraph 1, f, h, and i), the new ICAO manual provides general guidance on services and features needed to meet the needs of persons with disabilities in air transportation. The guidance material in the manual was created by the Facilitation Panel’s Working Group on Persons with Disabilities for the purpose of elaborating on the relevant Standards and Recommended Practices in Annex 9 — Facilitation and assisting the civil aviation community in their implementation.

In summary, the manual highlights that all procedures forming part of an air travel journey, including reservations, check-in, immigration and customs, security clearances, transfers within airports, embarkation and disembarkation, departure, carriage and arrival should be adapted to the needs of PwDs in order to facilitate the clearance and air transportation of such persons in a dignified manner.

VisitBerlin website has information, links for visitors with disabilities

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Brandenburg Gate in Berlin from VisitBerlin website

Berlin, the most visited city in Germany, won the Access City Award from the European Commission in 2012.  VisitBerlin, the city’s official tourism, convention, and travel website, has a lot of information on its website for visitors to the city who have disabilities.  The information includes many links to further information – such as Mobidat database, which is maintained and updated with information (in German, English, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian and Turkish) for disabled Berlin visitors by the non-profit association Albatros.  Information on the VisitBerlin website covers access in areas such as:

  • Arriving and Public Transit (covers rail, sub, bus – including accessible bus tours, trams
  • Driving services
  • Excursion boats
  • Accomodations
  • Attractions such as museums, exhibitions, parks, and zoos
  • Shopping
  • Dinning – including the dark restaurants Nocti Vagus and the unsicht-bar Berlin
  • Guided tours for people with mobility and/or sensory disabilities

Accessible businesses feature the “Barrier-free Berlin” sign, and the addresses of these locations can be found online through the website. Others are registered in the Mobidat database.   There is a wheelchair breakdown service (RPD Berlin) which provides assistance around the clock with an emergency service. Companies that rent wheelchairs and mobility aids can also provide a quick replacement in emergencies. The locations of public, barrier-free restrooms can be found on the internet.  There are more than twenty mobility aid services in Berlin available to those who cannot travel alone.

Heathrow Airport dramatically improves accessibility for passengers with disabilities

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Person in a wheelchair at an airport

Heathrow, the host airport of London 2012, has dramatically improved accessibility for passengers with disabilities due to the huge investments it made during the Paralympic Games.  So writes Tom Degun in Inside the Games.  The peak arrivals day for the Paralympics came on August 22 when around 2,100 athletes and officials came through Heathrow, with the airport handling over 2,800 wheelchairs during the Games.  During the Olympics and Paralympics, more than 75,000 journeys were made by Paralympians, Olympians and team officials. As well as the 2,800 wheelchairs, the airport handled 5,000 oversized bags including canoes, javelins, bikes and pole vault poles; 1,300 firearms plus ammunition; and 20,000 members of the media. The Paralympics naturally presented a different and greater operational  challenge than the Olympics given the complexity of handling increased numbers  of Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRMs).   The challenge during the Paralympics was the complexity of passengers’ needs rather than the volume of passengers and bags, meaning it wasn’t necessary to use the temporary Games Terminal for departing Paralympians. However, 300 volunteers waved off each Paralympian with a Guard of Honour bidding them farewell.

“The Heathrow team has spent the last seven years preparing for this challenge,” explained Nick Cole, head of London 2012 planning at Heathrow Airport.  “We conducted rehearsals to test our processes and procedures, and have spent more than £20 million ($32 million/€25 million) in preparing for the Games.  “This includes installing new ramps and lifts to manage the number of passengers with mobility disabilities using Heathrow, and we have given extra training for our staff and volunteers on the safe way to handle specialist wheelchairs.”

In order to meet the challenge posed by the Paralympic Games, Heathrow partnered with mobility charity Whizz-Kidz. The charity offered first-hand, expert guidance on how to further improve the airport’s accessibility. It audited Heathrow’s terminal facilities and suggested a number of improvements, including increasing the number of specialist lifts, known as ambilifts, which are used to help PRMs embark and disembark aircraft. Heathrow now has 12 ambilifts – more than any other airport in Europe.

The charity also recommended obtaining 13 scissor lifts and installing 100 new ramps to help load and unload wheelchairs, upgrading and increasing its fleet of buggies for transporting PRMs through the airport to a total of 60 vehicles, installing four new lifts to help return wheelchairs to the aircraft door, increasing the number of lightweight aisle chairs and self-propelled wheelchairs to 38 and 20 respectively, an on-site wheelchair repair service and installing new accessible toilets. “These improvements provide a positive lasting legacy with an enhanced level of accessibility for PRMs,” added Cole.  “We are very passionate about this and this dedication is becoming infectious across the airport.”

1,000 volunteers were recruited from local communities to assist travellers and Cole added that they had a hugely positive impact, which he hopes will be continued after the Games.  “We would like to have permanent volunteers, local people, working with us to welcome passengers to London and provide the best possible passenger experience.”  The focus now is on the London 2012 legacy and many of the improvements at London-Heathrow will continue to benefit passengers for years to come.

Survey of visitors to Britain who have an impairment and/or a medical condition

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Visit Britain Logo

In 2010 VisitBritain sponsored a question on the International Passenger Survey that asked:

Do you have any of the following conditions or impairments:

A – I have a mobility impairment (wheelchair user)

B – I have a mobility impairment (non-wheelchair user)

C – I am blind

D – I am partially sighted

E – I am deaf

F – I have partial hearing loss

G – I have learning difficulties

H – I have a long-term illness (e.g. AIDS, arthritis, cancer, diabetes)

None of these

The question was answered by more than 90% of survey respondents (576,000), 540,000 mentioned a single impairment or condition and 36,000 mentioning more than one.  Considering that there were 30 million visits last year to Britain, the numbers reporting an impairment or medical condition was very low at about 1.9% of visits. The majority of visitors with impairments and/or conditions were 65 years old or older.  The total expenditure generated by visits that were by someone with one of the impairments/conditions covered is estimated at £341m, or 2% of all inbound visitor spending.  The average length of a visit was higher than the average across all visits.

The conditions or impairments most likely to be mentioned were those relating to mobility (non-wheelchair user), partial hearing loss, or a long term illness. It is clear that the average length of a visit among this group has a tendency to be higher than the average across all visits.   Between them British and Irish nationals account for one-third of all visits by people who have an one or more of the impairments or conditions.  It is not surprising then that more respondents travel for medical treatment than for any other reason.  British and Irish nationals are followed by American, German, Dutch, French, Canadian, Australian, Swedish, and Italian visitors.

Access for people with disabilities at airports across the globe varies significantly

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Photo of an airport

Shahab Siddiqui – founder of flight finder site,, and a wheelchair user – has travelled extensively throughout the world and has experienced varying levels of difficulty at airports depending on the city of arrival. He comments: “I always feel very excited when I arrive in a new city by plane, but I also feel anxious about how easy it will be to navigate the airport when I arrive. Some airports have highly trained staff and extensive wheelchair access, while others are still extremely primitive in their offering, which makes the experience very challenging.”

Airports association ACI Europe holds an annual Best Airport Awards which takes into account accessibility, as deemed by the Disabled People’s Association (Denmark) who are on the judging panel. In 2012, London’s City Airport was deemed the best airport in the one to five million passenger category, with Edinburgh airport leading the way for those transporting 5-10 million passengers annually. Among Europe’s largest airports, counting traffic of 25 million and above, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol was named Best Airport – the third time in four years that the Dutch hub has won such recognition, noted for its delivery of excellent services and facilities.

Shahab continues: “There are a huge number of factors that persons with disabilities need to consider when entering an airport, whether for a short haul jaunt or if they are undertaking multi-city flights. This includes travelling from the car-park, using toilets in the airport, registering at the check-in desk and carrying your baggage. The provision can vary depending on the regulations of that country regarding the accessibility of public buildings and therefore the experience in one country can be very different from another. If you have a choice of airports, it is always worth researching thoroughly which is the most accessible, as it can greatly influence your entire holiday experience.”

Source: Press release,

Qantas airline introduces assistive booking app

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Qantas logo

In a first, Australian airline Qantas has partnered with eSSENTIAL AccessibilityTM, a free assistive technology app that helps customers with physical disabilities book flights and other travel products.   Anyone who has difficulty typing, moving a mouse or reading can now navigate the Qantas web site more easily with a range of free online tools such as a hands-free movement tracking system, onscreen keyboard with word prediction and page reader.

Find out more about eSSENTIAL AccessibilityTM or download the app now.

Keyboar and mouse replacement features of eSSENTIAL AccessibilityTM include

  • Onscreen keyboard with word prediction and layout designer
  • Auto  click
  • Manual      scan
  • Auto scan
  • XY mouse
  • Direction mouse
  • Radar mouse
  • Hands-free movement tracking system

Individuals who have difficulty reading can use eSSENTIAL AccessibilityTM to read the content, frame title and links of any open web page aloud.  eSSENTIAL AccessibilityTM is fully compatible with Microsoft Speech Recognition 6.1 or greater.

Other features include a fully customisable toolbar and multi-user (seven in all including French), multi-language system which is fully compatible with SAPI 4 and SAPI 5.

(Main source: Qantas website)

On opposite sides of the globe, airlines and access for people with disabilities are again in the news

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Airlines on opposite sides of the globe are coming under fire again for their handling of people with disabilities. For starters, Jetstar’s refusal in April to carry wheelchair-using journalists between Auckland and  Wellington has made it into the Innes Worst of the Year Awards list. The list is created by Graeme Innes, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner . Innes hands out brickbats and bouquets once a year to those who do great work (or otherwise) for, by, and on behalf of the disability sector in that country. Innes calls the refusal of Jetstar – and also Virgin and Tiger airlines – to carry more than two people using wheelchairs on each aircraft “airline apartheid”.  Meanwhile,  Australian Sheila King has taken action against Jetstar in the federal Court over its “two-wheelchair-only” policy.

In the northern hemisphere, Easyjet unleashed a Twitter storm of indignation when it refused to board a woman with her service dog.  Joanna Jones was trying to board a flight at Gatwick for Belfast and had her dog Orla with her.  She had a week before had no issues with boarding with Orla for the flight from Belfast to Gatwick.  Staff at Easyjet admitted that they could see Orla was a guide dog, but said that Jones needed to provide the paperwork to “make her flight more  ‘comfortable’”.  Easyjet booked Jones on another flight after she received paperwork. Easyjet has been criticised in the past for its policies concerning customers with disabilities.

Two-volume publication on international accessible tourism includes New Zealand chapter

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Two new text books on accessible tourism are available through the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) from Channel View Publications. The first is “Concepts and Issues” (eds: Dimitrios Buhalis and Simon Darcy), which sets out to  explore and document the current theoretical approaches, foundations and issues  in the study of accessible tourism.  Professor Nigel Morgan, The Welsh Centre for Tourism Research states that this volume harnesses “the best conceptual  developments on the topic” and that it will “take accessible tourism and universal design debates into the mainstream of academic enquiryand industry practice“

The second volume is “Best Practice in Accessible Tourism” (eds: Buhalis, Darcy, and Ivor Ambrose).  It focuses on policy and best practice in accessible tourism, reflecting the ”state-of -the-art” as expressed in a selection of international chapters. It brings together global expertise in planning, design and management to inform and stimulate providers of travel, transport, accommodation, leisure and tourism services to serve guests with disabilities, seniors and the wider markets that require good accessibility. Chapter 8, written by Sandra Rhodda of Access Tourism New Zealand, describes the state of accessible tourism in this country.  Overall, the book gives ample evidence that accessible tourism organisations and destinations can expand their target markets as well as improve the quality of their service offering, leading to greater customer satisfaction, loyalty and expansion of business.  Accessible tourism is not only about providing access to people with disabilities but also it addresses the creation of universally designed environments that can support people that may have temporary disabilities, families with young children, the ever increasing ageing population as well as creating a safer environment for employees to work. Noel Scott, of the University of Queensland, Australia says that the volume “provides a ‘state-of-the-art” assessment of both theory and practice. This book establishes a new field of study and provides the benchmark against which other contributions will be judged. It integrates the work of all the key players and should be read by academics, managers and government policy makers.”

USA Transportation Regulation Proposal: Airline Websites, Kiosks Must be Accessible

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in its ongoing effort to ensure equal access to air transportation for all travelers has proposed a regulation that would require airlines to make over the next two years their websites accessible to people with disabilities and ensure that their ticket agents do the same.  DOT also proposed that airlines make automated airport kiosks at U.S. airports accessible to passengers with disabilities. U.S. airports that jointly own, lease or control such kiosks with airlines would also have responsibility for ensuring the accessibility of automated airport kiosks. 
“I strongly believe that airline passengers with disabilities should have equal access to the same services as all other travelers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “The Department of Transportation is committed to ensuring that airline passengers are treated fairly, and today’s action is part of that effort.”

Websites would be required to meet the standards for accessibility contained in the widely accepted Website Content Accessibility Guidelines.  The requirement would apply to U.S. and foreign carriers with websites marketing air transportation to U.S. consumers for travel within, to or from the United States.  Small ticket agents would be exempt from the requirement to have accessible websites. 
In addition, airlines and airports that use automated kiosks for services such as printing boarding passes and baggage tags would have to ensure that any kiosk ordered 60 days after the rule takes effect is accessible.  Standards for accessibility would be based on standards for automated transaction machines set by the Department of Justice in its 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act rule.  This requirement would apply to U.S. and foreign carriers and U.S. airports that own, lease or control automated airport kiosks at U.S. airports with 10,000 or more annual boardings.     

This proposal is the latest in a series of DOT rulemakings to implement the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).  In the ACAA rule issued in May 2008, DOT required carriers, among other things, to make discounts available to passengers with disabilities who cannot use inaccessible web sites and therefore must make telephone or in-person reservations. Also, if passengers with disabilities are unable to use the kiosk because it is not accessible, carriers are required to provide equivalent service, such as having an airline employee assist in operating the kiosk.  However, these provisions do not give passengers with disabilities, especially those with visual and mobility impairments, independent access to the websites and kiosks, and in this final rule the Department committed to exploring how to make websites and kiosks accessible. 

 The proposal is available on the Internet at, docket DOT-OST-2011-0177.

New Terminal at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport has Easy Access For All

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Haneda Airport

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (Tokyo Internatinal Airport) has a new runway and new international terminal that “makes life easy for international travellers”.   So writes Harriet Baskas  in USA Today.   “And in a country well-known for its high-tech toilets, the airport restrooms are a delight. “Ordinary toilets” have wider-than-normal doorways to accommodate both manual wheelchair users and travelers with suitcases. Folding doors on the cubicles include a sign indicating whether or not there’s a baby seat and a fold-down changing table inside. And inside each women’s restroom area there’s a urinal for use by small boys.

“Multipurpose toilets” are exactly that. To accommodate wheelchair users, passengers traveling with babies or toddlers, elderly people and anyone with a special need, there are restrooms equipped with just about every facility imaginable. In addition to diaper changing tables, beds and changing platforms, these restrooms have ostomate showers and sinks, layouts that allow for right or left hand transfers to the toilet seat from a wheelchair and an emergency button linked directly to the airport’s Disaster Control Center.

And, in what is certainly an airport first, there’s even a restroom designed specifically for use by service dogs.”

Amongst the improvements making this airport highly accessible to all, including people with disabilities, is excellent information on the airport website about access.