Belfast International Airport is committed to working in partnership with disability groups to make the airport as accessible as possible and have engaged with various groups throughout 2017. We have continued to promote and encourage "Try before you fly / familiarization visits." and have assisted various disability groups and individuals.
At the beginning of May we welcomed a group of autistic adults from a local residential care home who had contacted us prior to a long awaited trip to Disneyland Paris.
The Arches Residential Care Home provides specialist care to residents who live with a learning disability. They contacted us to arrange a visit with a view to familiarising the group with the Airport experience. Security staff met with the group and explained the security screening process and our customer services team talked them through the Airport experience. The visit was a huge success and we received some very welcome feedback from The Arches in respect of the benefits of their visit to BIA.
"We felt the value of our visit and the time you spend with our residents last year was fantastic. All of the holiday makers were so at ease with the process of going through the airport and what would happen when we were there due to the efforts you and your colleagues put in. As they were familiar with the sights and sounds of the airport before arriving for their trip, there were no episodes of anxiety exhibited at any point. We even cleared security without the need to take any shoes off! One of the chaps carried his plane the whole way there.
We went into the airport lounge which was a lovely and relaxing experience - the guys even met Carl Frampton! Great start to the holiday. We had a nice bite to eat, a few beers and wines before boarding the flight then we were off to see Paris. The residents all very much enjoyed their first experiences on a plane, the journey went without a hitch.
It was such a successful trip, the holiday itself and more importantly the preparation work you helped so much with, our inspecting body encouraged our company to put us forward for an award. So in July 2017 we went to the ICC in Birmingham to the national learning disability and autism awards where we won "nurse of the year" and "supporting older people with learning disabilities". We would love to thank you for the part you played in this! This is now a way of life for our residents here at the Arches and we have 2 groups going this year! With that I would hope we would be able to do something similar at your convenience for the residents going on these next trips?"
On 13th May we welcomed Michaela Hollywood to the Airport to trial the promove sling in advance of a proposed trip to Bristol to attend a conference. Michaela works for Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers, a network of young campaigners seeking to reduce barriers to inclusive life with a disability. The experience was a total success. not only did we receive lovely feedback but Michaela is now a regular traveller through BIA.
“Since I became too big for my dad to lift me, I was unable to fly. It was a whole decade since I had last even considered flying as getting on and off a plane was so difficult! When I got my job at Muscular Dystrophy UK, I knew some travel would be essential as part of my role. My disability is particularly complex, and we didn’t really know if any of the lifting methods would work for me.
I got in touch with staff at Belfast International Airport to try out a Promove sling to get me from my wheelchair and onto the plane. This greatly eased my anxiety - despite loving flying itself - and I booked to visit Bristol just a few weeks later to give a lecture there.
All the staff are excellent - from remembering your name and the way you need things done due to your disability, and giving you the reassurance that they will speak to staff at the other end. I’ve now flown 2 return journeys for work without any trouble, and we hope to start thinking about a family holiday now.
If it was not for ’Try before you Fly’ I definitely would not have been able to fly again. This has opened up a whole new world of opportunities and adventures that I cannot wait to explore!”
In April 28th we welcomed a group of puppies in-training and their Puppy Walkers from Guide Dogs NI. The puppies and their trainers were taken through the full passenger experience from checking-in to boarding an aircraft as part of their extensive training programme to become Guide Dogs.
Staff from OCS were in attendance to assist with any enquiries / concerns in respect of the passenger journey. Particular attention was given to the security screening process. We also acknowledge the assistance provided by Jet2.com who obliged by making an aircraft available for the visit. All in all it was a huge success – we hope to make it an annual event.
We have continued our engagement with Respond Healthcare in respect of providing assistance to those passengers travelling with Stomas.
Respond Healthcare, the leading supplier of stoma and continence prescription services across Northern Ireland, has carried out specialist training with security staff at Belfast International Airport with the aim of creating awareness of people travelling with stomas.
In Northern Ireland there are approximately 10,000 people living with stomas at any one time with around 1,000 new cases every year spread across all of the healthcare trusts.
Jenny Arlow, Stoma Nurse for Respond Healthcare said: “With the rigorous security routines now in place when travelling through airports, it is vital that security staff are able to assist people travelling with a stoma as empathetically as possible. People living with stomas have a lot of concerns when they are travelling including being publicly searched, security staff pulling out their essential medical supplies in view of other passengers, being made to feel embarrassed in front of their friends and family and really the general lack of understanding about their condition.
“Respond Healthcare, in association with TG Eakin has carried out training with the security staff of Belfast International Airport to help create awareness of people travelling with stomas. The training addressed common concerns passengers with stomas have when travelling, how security staff can help elevate the concerns and what procedures should be put in place to ensure passengers can pass through the security process in a dignified manner,”
For further information or advice on living with a stoma or to request a copy of Respond’s ‘Going On Holiday’ booklet please call free on 0800 028 6848 or go to www.respond.co.uk.
We have also had considerable involvement this year with Crohns and Colitis UK.
In October we reported that we would change the signage of iour accessible toilets to reflect the ‘invisible nature’ of some health conditions. This follows a successful UK public campaign for support by patient charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK who joined forces with Takeda UK Ltd. to launch Travel with IBD.
A major anxiety for people living with a chronic health condition, like Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis¹, is being refused toilet access or being confronted about why they are using a disabled facility. Whilst someone may appear to look ‘okay’ on the outside, they may be in a daily battle with a serious medical condition and urgently need to use the ‘disabled’ or ‘accessible’ facilities.
The new signage will be displayed on all of the accessible toilets throughout the airport, using the tagline message that ‘not all disabilities are visible’. Crohn’s and Colitis UK, called for supporters to back the campaign by emailing UK airports, rail stations and service stations to ask for their help in the wide adoption of additional accessible toilet signage for accessible travel, helping to end the stigma and distress and help raise awareness that not every disability is visible.
To help prepare passengers trip and to ensure that your airport experience is as enjoyable and as stress free as possible, we have recently produced two downloadable and printable booklets.
We continue to support passengers travelling with a child or family member on the autistic spectrum by inviting individual family groups to the airport for familiarisation visits comprising of a full run through of the passenger experience including the various stages of the security screening process. The feedback received has been extremely positive in terms of the peace of mind and support afforded to those families before, during and after their journey through the airport.
We have introduced downloadable Autism Awareness booklets in PDF format available through our website. The first booklet is for the younger traveller showing through pictures and words what they should expect during their journey through Belfast International Airport. There are lots of fun activities and interesting facts along the way. The second booklet is for adults with Autism and is also a useful guide for parents and carers of children with Autism.
We continue to promote our Autism Awareness Hidden Disability Lanyards. 574 lanyards were issued to families in 2017.