VersAbility Resources Hosts Wings for All® Program to Ease Air Travel for
People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
HAMPTON, Virginia – Air travel can be especially daunting and uncomfortable for people with disabilities and their family members. VersAbility Resources recently cohosted a nationally recognized “rehearsal” program at Norfolk International Airport designed to give local family members and aviation professionals the confidence to make air travel a viable option for people with disabilities.
Based in Hampton Roads, VersAbility Resources works each day to support people with disabilities of all ages in leading productive and fulfilling lives.
More than 100 participants and caregivers participated in this year’s Wings for All® (Wings) event which included practice on boarding an American Airlines plane and interacting with gate agents as well as a presentation on the aircraft features and in-flight safety protocols.
The program provides a safe way to experience the noise, bright lights, crowds and security screening procedures – all of which can be overwhelming and overstimulating for people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
“I have always been afraid to fly with Eathan,” said one mother who attended the Wings event and whose son has a shunt and cannot go through the metal detectors. “I’ve been very cautious. However, going through this process I’m more at ease. Eathan was very comfortable.”
The Wings program was created by The Arc, the world’s largest community-based organization of and for people with I/DDs. The Arc has co-hosted over 160 Wings events at 65 airports across the U.S., collaborating with airport, airline and TSA personnel to design and carry out each session. Partner airlines and airports volunteer their time for the events.
“We are so grateful for these types of programs for our families,” said a family member of another one of the participants. “All the people who volunteered at the airport and all the staff at ORF and the organizations who put this on were amazing, kind, upbeat, respectful and care about our families! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The goal is to make air travel a viable option for traveling throughout the year for people with disabilities and their family members.
During the Wings event at Norfolk International Airport, yellow shirts were worn by volunteers to stand out if participants needed assistance or had questions and blue shirts were worn by participants and caregivers.
Arriving participants checked in, received their shirt and went to the American Airlines ticket counter to get their gate pass before proceeding to their gate where they would wait to board the plane.
With a plane reserved for the event, participants and caregivers could get the entire experience of boarding a flight, locating their seat, listening to the safety protocol and receiving snacks. One participant was even lucky enough to sit in the pilot’s seat.
The session concluded with deboarding the plane, exiting the concourse and a catered reception.
“Thanks to this experience I can’t wait to plan his first trip,” said Eathan’s mother. “We are forever grateful. Eathan’s vision is slowly leaving him so I can’t tell you how much of a dream come true this was for us. That’s all I wanted was for him to go on a plane while he can still physically see one. Thank you so much.”
Learn more about VersAbility Resources at versability.org.