Part of living a full life in the community includes being able to travel to faraway locations for both work and pleasure. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are entitled to this piece of community participation—just like anyone else—and should be able to navigate air transit comfortably to experience the same opportunities as every other traveler.
People with autism and other I/DDs often experience barriers to participating in air travel. Airports and airplanes can be overwhelming and full of unexpected and overstimulating variables, such as bright lights, noises, TSA security screening, and crowds. Too often, there is a lack of understanding among airport and airline staff—leading to confusion on how to handle accommodations or unexpected behaviors when a flier is overwhelmed or nervous about navigating the air travel process. Combined, these barriers lead to hesitation and fear, inhibiting participation in air travel. As a result, people can miss out on new experiences and connecting with family members and friends that live far away.
Parents who may be nervous to travel with children who have autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities can breathe a sigh a relief thanks to:
The Arc’s Wings for Autism / Wings for All (Wings) program which gives families and aviation professionals the confidence to take to the skies with ease by providing an airport “rehearsal,” as well as a presentation on the aircraft features and in-flight safety protocols. Chapters of The Arc, local partners, and airport/airline/TSA personnel work collaboratively to design and carry out each Wings event.
Additionally, the organization is constantly working to help airport and airline employees better understand how they can assist parents with special needs children. During practice days, employees get the opportunity to interact with parents and children while offering their services in an environment that’s catered to a child in need.
Wings alleviates some of the stress that people with autism and other I/DDs and their families experience when traveling by air by providing families with the opportunity to experience and learn about how their loved ones will react to different stimuli in the airport.
Parents who are interested in participating can sign up on the Wings For All website. If you’re too far away from the planned locations, you can also contact the organization to bring a practice day to an airport near you.