Accessibility Spotlight #1: Heathrow’s Autism Passenger Guide

This year I have done a lot of travelling, and it was incredible.

As a result, I have spent an ridiculous amount of time in airports and on airport / airline websites, which brings me on to the first topic of my ‘Accessibility Spotlight’ – a weekly blog post that essentially says “well done!” to innovative and inspiring accessible solutions.

Recently I noticed an incredible feature in the Special Assistance section of the Heathrow website. There is a whole bunch of mega useful information that can be found here such as – travelling with an assistance dog, walking distances in the terminals, changing places for wheelchair users, designated quiet areas and much much more. This alone makes me the biggest accessibility fan girl (hopefully you can sense my enthusiasm through my words!)

Screen shot of Heathrows Special Assistance, accessibility and mobility help page

In this blog post I am going to talk specifically about a feature found in the Hidden and Cognitive Disabilities page, the copy begins with a great statement –

“At Heathrow we understand all passengers are unique and we offer different levels of support tailored to your needs. For a hidden disability such as autism, dementia or anxiety, help is always at hand at the airport”

This brings me nicely on to the cherry on the cake; the airport Autism Passenger Guide.

Screen shot of the front cover of the Autism Passenger Guide

Heathrow have collaborated with Autism specialist providers and a leading charity to create this simple and concise leaflet (found online and available to pick up at all Special Assistance host areas). It has been specifically put together to help passengers with Autism have a better journey through Heathrow.

The 2 main key achievements from this I want to point out are –

  1. Autism friendly Staff Badge

    On the cover of the leaflet there is an image of a staff badge with a graphic of a helping hand and 2 human figures placed inside. This is presented along side the text – “Autism, we’re here to help. If I am wearing this badge I can help make your journey better”.

    In my opinion, this simple image and text presented on the cover of the leaflet is so impactful. Immediately you are presented with a solution even without opening the leaflet. And as a result, the potential of immense reassurance is possible.

    For people with Autism, going to an unfamiliar place can be a cause for massive distress and anxiety. Knowing there are clearly recognisable staff, that have voluntarily signed up to an autism awareness programme, is such a great yet subtle way of creating a far better experience.

    A random tangent – previously I have moderated User Testing with people with Autism. I remember having a conversation with a chap with Autism about how colours can really change how he feels. Purple is the main theme here (assuming this is to keep in brand with Heathrow). But on further research, interestingly purple is known to “Calms the mind and nerves”. Even if unintentional, I am a fan of this!

  2. Autism Alert Card

    “Socialising and communicating can be challenging for many autistic people.” – The National Autistic Society

    Autism alert cards are commonly known in the Autism community. They are really useful for situations when communication may be difficult. Heathrow have embraced this; offering their own for customers to use, or alternatively continuing to use one a customer already has. The copy in the leaflet brilliantly explains in 4 simple points, why a person may want to use the alert card,

    – To advise you have autism or communication difficulties.
    – To explain an autistic behaviour.
    – To provide an emergency contact for you.
    – To provide any information on how best we can support you.

    Heathrow's Autism alert card, with text saying "How you can help me"
    Again, for someone with Autism, this could be a massive reassurance. Knowing staff are aware of alert cards could result in greater confidence using an alert card (if needed). Finally, the same icon is present on Heathrow’s alert card as appears on the Autism Friendly Staff badge – this consistency is key in creating the best experience for all and I admire this greatly.

As a last note, hats of to Heathrow! Keep up the great work on inclusion to all – this is epic!


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