Some airports have already implemented some adaptations to meet the needs of passengers with non-visible disabilities, but now, for the first time, ACI Europe, the trade association representing Europe’s airports, has launched official guidelines on the matter.
The latest data from Eurostat estimates that 1 in 4 adults in the EU is living with some form of disability and approximately 80% of these conditions are non-visible. Passengers with non-visible or less visible disabilities have historically been included within the broader category of passengers requiring airport assistance and, as such, have been included in airport assistance services. Airports are now taking new measures to improve accessibility and inclusivity.
Travel is a fundamental right for all, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that airports across Europe remain accessible to everyone.Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe Director General
“This document serves as a guiding light for airport managing bodies and their stakeholders, offering practical guidance on how to assist passengers with non-visible disabilities in an empathetic and respectful manner”, ACI Europe Director General, Olivier Jankovec explained in a statement. “Together, we can make air travel more inclusive, ensuring that every passenger’s journey is marked by dignity, respect and equal access to the wonders of our world.”
Besides legislation setting minimum requirements for a safe, secure and timely journey, passengers request an experience that is hassle-free, provides smooth processes, the possibility to control the different stages of the journey, tailor-made services and differentiated products to meet their needs and expectations, ACI Europe explains. Like any other passenger, a passenger with non-visible disabilities has needs and expectations. However, unlike other passengers, they may find it difficult to express and communicate these needs and expectations.
“Everything hinges on understanding. If people understand, then they can more easily see why changes are worthwhile and deserved. If they understand, they judge less. If they understand, then I am not so alone”, a passenger with a non-visible disability told the trade association.
The “Assisting Passengers with Non-Visible Disabilities” guidelines offers a comprehensive view of how passengers with non-visible disabilities, such as autism, mental health conditions, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD, ADD) and sensory processing difficulties, among others, can be impacted by seemingly banal interactions. The document suggests possible adaptations and shares examples of successful implementation.
Among others, the guidelines suggest the creation of areas tailored for people with hypersensitivity to external environmental stimuli, such as noise, intense smells, for example from the perfumes at duty free shops, or even intense patterns on flooring or carpets. “Some passengers may need a silent place to reduce their stress, away from the overwhelming stimuli of the airport environment to prepare themselves for the next step of travel. For example, these can be placed after security screening as it is considered as one of the most stress-inducing and triggering touchpoint at an airport for passengers with disabilities”, the document suggests.
As an example, Manchester Airport created a quiet room in its departures area, designed for people who suffer from any form of hypersensitivity. Unlike other similar initiatives, access to the room is unrestricted so that customers can use the facility at their leisure and without pre-booking. The space is painted in neutral colours and has dimmable lights and no speaker announcements, except for emergencies.