This story was first published by the Kansas City Beacon.
When flights are rescheduled or moved to another gate, the announcement is usually played through the airport audio system. Passengers who are deaf or hard of hearing do not receive the memo, forcing them to rely on others to relay the new information.
Sometimes it turns into a phone game. Micki Keck, a deaf woman who works with The Whole Person, once missed a flight after another person gave her the wrong gate number. She was forced to find a hotel for the night and take another flight the next day.
“I had to get up at 5 or 6 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep,” Keck said. “It was crazy, just another example of miscommunication.”
Keck’s experience is not uncommon for people with disabilities. Most airports aren’t designed with accessibility in mind – people with sensory processing disorders, dementia, and other conditions face a travel experience that doesn’t take their needs into account.
When the Kansas City International Airport’s new terminal was approved for construction, Kansas City Council gave the Department of Aviation a tall order: to make it the most accessible airport in the world.
“A project like this is generational,” said Justin Meyer, deputy director of the Kansas City Department of Aviation. “It’s once every 50 to 70 years. I hope building users will feel like we saw them while we were working on this project and recognized what their needs are now and what they will be in the future.
Keck was one of the many community advocates who helped design the terminal. To understand the needs of the community, the airport developers consulted with groups like The Whole Person and Dementia Friendly KC.
Keck stressed the need for visual paging signs, which would allow deaf passengers to see information about rescheduling flights. The new terminal will include visual paging across all major information screens and hopefully avoid confusion like the one Keck experienced..
Part of the process was helping developers understand that what works for one disability may not work for everyone.
Sheila Styron, who is blind and works with The Whole Person, was hired to give her opinion on a simulation room designed to help people know what to expect when taking a flight. The part is made from the cabin of an old airplane and includes seats, aisles, and other features that people will interact with on a real airplane. Few other airports in the United States offer such a room; Pittsburgh International Airport is one of the few to have simulation rooms already in place.
Although Styron agreed that the KC room had a lot of potential to help people with sensory processing disorders, it lacked tactile properties to help blind people navigate. Instead, she recommended that employees offer a full tour of the airport to blind passengers to help them better understand.
Meyer said the simulation room is intended to be part of a larger experience for those interested in learning more about airport navigation and flying. People will be able to set a meeting time, meet an airport employee, and go through the whole process – from getting a ticket, through security and “boarding” in “the. plane ‘from the simulation room.
Toilets included, private breastfeeding rooms
The new terminal will also include gender-neutral toilets in addition to gendered toilets, adult changing rooms and private breastfeeding rooms.
There will be large, gender-neutral toilets in each hall, and the gender-neutral toilets will have floor-to-ceiling doors for privacy, Meyer said.
For people who need help getting to the bathroom and changing, traditional airport toilets can be a source of anxiety and shame. The new terminal will have changing rooms designed for adults that include an adult changing table. Gender-neutral toilets are also designed to ensure that caregivers of different genders can help their clients.
Mothers who need to breastfeed will have several private rooms in the terminal. A federal law passed in 2018 requires medium and large airports to provide dedicated feeding areas, and the new terminal will have between eight and 10 rooms dedicated exclusively to infant feeding.
“We will have some in the secure gate areas and some in the pre-secure area,” Meyer said. “If your baby is hungry and you need to feed him (before going through security), we’ll make a space for that. “
Rescue areas for service animals
Americans With Disabilities Act lawyer Michele Ohmes, a wheelchair user, has been using service dogs for decades. In one case, a series of flight delays and cancellations prevented her dog, Maddie, from using the bathroom for more than 10 hours.
“I vowed never to fly with my service dog again,” Ohmes said. “And I didn’t. I have a minibus that I use to travel across the country, where me and my dog are in control.
When Ohmes and Maddie landed this night in the KCI terminal, Ohmes must have rushed Maddie out immediately to a small patch of grass. The new terminal will have service animal relief areas in each hall so that service animal handlers no longer have to rush outside the secure area.
Emergency areas are a welcome addition, Styron said, but they’re indoors, which can be a problem. Some dogs are reluctant to go to the indoor toilet, even if their owner gives them the consent.
“Unless our dog really has to go, a lot of them don’t want to,” she said. “They sort of sniffle, like, ‘Should I? Is not it ? “
There will be an outdoor animal relief area near the baggage claim area, but going back and forth through security means most people leaving the airport will need to use the indoor relief area.
Meyer wants the new KCI terminal to set a national standard for inclusiveness and accessibility. Simulation rooms and large, gender-neutral washrooms are the exception, not the rule, at most terminals today, largely due to their age. Refurbishing existing structures to make them more accessible can be prohibitively expensive compared to building a new structure.
“Hopefully we push a bit like we’re doing here, and look at inclusiveness, is really an opportunity for future building designers across the region, whether it’s stadiums or stadiums. ‘hotels or any kind of facility, to really see how we were striving to be inclusive, how it worked and how the community embraced it.
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