Guest blogger Sara Marchant is the Accessibility Manager for Gatwick. She works with a range of charities and support groups to understand the challenges faced by passengers with disabilities when travelling through the airport, and how we can make it easier for them. Please see below the blog Sarah has kindly written for us.

Airports can be complex, busy, confusing places at the best of times. For passengers who have a hidden medical condition such as dementia, the prospect of air travel may be so daunting that they decide not to try. We know that 7% of the UK population choose not to travel by air because of a hidden disability. But it isn’t just them; it is their partners, children and parents who are also not taking that journey.

At Gatwick, we believe that every person with dementia should be able to travel by air and have a positive, professional and enjoyable experience, just the same as anybody else. We are an ageing population, and it is likely that most people will have had some experience of dementia, either personally, or via a family member, colleague or friend.

One of the things that we can all do at the airport is recognise people who may need a little more help or time, and take the time to talk to them with empathy and kindness.

In order to give our frontline staff the tools to recognise people who may be living with dementia, we worked with the Alzheimer’s Society to create a bespoke ‘Dementia Friends’ awareness module for Gatwick. Dementia Friends is a national campaign, which aims to equip people with some insight into what life is like living with Dementia day-to-day and some simple things that they can do in order to help. They aim to make 4 million Dementia Friends by 2020, and are already at just under 3 million.

There are five key messages within the module:

  1. Dementia is not a natural part of ageing
  2. Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain
  3. Dementia is not just about losing your memory
  4. It is possible to live well with dementia
  5. There is more to the person than the dementia

Gatwick has also developed a hidden disability lanyard. It was first launched at Gatwick in May 2016 and acts as a discreet signifier to staff that the person who is wearing it (or somebody in their party) has a hidden disability and may require a little extra help. We ask them to simply have a conversation with the person along the lines of “Are you ok? Do you need a hand with anything?”

The lanyard is (of course) entirely optional, but feedback from passengers who have used it has been extremely positive, many of them saying it gave them the confidence to fly, in the knowledge that staff would be understanding.

The lanyard is now being used in every major UK airport, and is also gaining support at airports internationally. In addition, the initiative is also being used by several NHS trusts, cinemas, shopping complexes, and Sainsbury and Tesco are currently trialling it around the Hertfordshire area.

Busy places such as airports can be daunting to navigate at the best of times, but attempting to do so with a disease such as dementia and perhaps feeling that you are being judged, even more so. Anything we can do to help ease the feelings of anxiety, and make our environment a less scary place will continue to make air travel more accessible for all.

Gatwick Airport is one of the exciting projects Cundall’s IT and AV team have recently been working on to demonstrate ways technology can be a ‘friend rather than a foe’. To find out more about how the team can add value to your project click here.

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