Last week, without too much fanfare, Gatwick Airport became the U.K.’s first designated “Autism Friendly” airport. The National Autistic Society is responsible for the presentation of the “Autism Friendly” award to restaurants, businesses, shopping centers, and more. Gatwick received the designation from the NAS, “in recognition of the airport’s commitment to becoming an accessible and friendly environment for autistic passengers.”
In order to earn the label, “Autism Friendly,” Gatwick had to meet a range of criteria that would benefit passengers with autism, along with their families and caregivers. This includes:
- Providing clear and accessible information about the airport to autistic passengers;
- Ensuring assistance is available for journey planning and preparation;
- Training staff so that they’re better equipped to properly assist autistic passengers;
- Introducing “Autism Champions,” who are trained to further educate and train airport employees, and to provide “enhanced assistance” to passengers who need it;
- Rolling out initiatives such as the hidden disability lanyard program.
The hidden disability lanyard was introduced this past May, and is an option available for any passenger with hidden challenges, including autism, Alzheimer’s, hearing impairment, and more. While wearing the lanyard is voluntary, those who do discreetly alert airport staff that they may (quoting from Gatwick’s press release):
- Need more time to process information or more time to prepare themselves at security;
- Need to remain with family at all times;
- May react to sensory overload (i.e., be surrounded by too much information);
- Need staff to use clear verbal language as it may be difficult to understand facial expressions and/or body language;
- Need staff to be visual with instructions and use closed questions to assist passengers effectively through the airport;
- Benefit from a more comprehensive briefing on what to expect as they travel through the airport.
As anybody who has travelled with a child with autism likely knows, it’s especially hard when you take a child out of their recognized routine and familiar environment and expose them to the chaos and unpredictability of an airport. Initiatives like this one and Myrtle Beach’s “sensory-friendly quiet room,” go a long way in making it easier for passengers and their families to travel. We look forward to hearing about more airports earning the “Autism Friendly” designation.
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