New program eases travel for disabled passengers

September 5, 2011 8:29:48 AM PDT
Chicago strives to be the most accessible city in the world, and making a first impression on visitors often takes place at airports.

Recognizing some of the challenges travelers with disabilities deal with at airports, the Department of Aviation has created a program that aims to make traveling easy and enjoyable.

"For every traveler that travels through our airports, we want to make sure that their first impression and their last impression of our great city is one that says, 'Chicago knows how to do it right. Mayor Daley cares and Chicago cares,'" said Dept. of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino.

It is not a easy task, especially when you have more than 83 million passengers traveling through Chicago airports every year.

Andolino says she wants to make sure there is something for everyone. That's why the city created the disability awareness and assistance program.

"We took into account all the services that we provide here at the city, including our traveler's aid service and working with the mayor's Office of People with Disabilities. We put together a program," said Andolino.

The program includes increasing accessible features, sensitivity training to all staff and the 'purple airplane.'

"What we have is a purple airplane sticker from the website and we put it on their person so that when they're traveling through the airport, our teams who have been trained in disability [education], awareness, will visualize that airplane and then provide them with that additional assistance," Andolino said.

Disability awareness training has been organized by the mayor's Office for People with Disabilities. Commissioner Karen Tamley explained how it was put together.

"We just really start with basic concepts around communication, courtesy, common sense. Those are kind of our three C's that we start with and really talk about that, don't assume. Don't assume someone needs help, don't assume how you should help somebody. You need to ask the individuals first how they need help," said Tamley said. "I'm a very frequent traveler myself, and often times people just start helping you without even asking how you need assistance."

There is a system set up for providing assistance.

"The airlines do contract with agencies that assist people on and off the planes. Then, obviously, the airport has staff that also provides customer assistance. But in many ways, we see it as one. The average traveler doesn't know the difference between who's a city employer and who's a contractor of the airlines. So, that's why we're doing training on two fronts," said Andolino.

The program started six months ago.

"The long-term plan is to continue to grow, to continue to raise awareness, and we're working with Traveler's Aid, which is a national organization that represents over 26 airports to make this a national program so that people-- whether they're coming, arriving from another airport-- have the same level of service and can expect that additional assistance," said Andolino.

The purple airplane stickers are available at www.flychicago.com.


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