This program lets people with disabilities practice air travel

A family boards a plane during The ARC’s 2019 Wings for All program at Norfolk International Airport. (WYDaily/Courtesy VersAbility Resources)

Air travel is overwhelming enough for anyone with having to get a boarding pass, check bags, go through security, and then systematically board a plane.

For people with autism or any other intellectual or developmental disability, the process of it all combined with added crowds, lights, and sounds, can be nothing less than daunting, said Josi Washington, a spokeswoman for VersAbility Resources.

In a partnership with national advocacy organization, The Arc, VersAbility is hosting its second annual “Wings for All” airport rehearsal event on Feb. 1, giving families and caregivers the opportunity to experience what it would be like to travel with their loved one but without leaving Hampton Roads.

“Anytime you can familiarize someone, it helps to lessen the anxiety and also to help people be prepared,” Washington said.

On the day of the event, VersAbility staff is meeting participants at Norfolk International Airport where they’ll go through all the motions as if they’re going to leave on a trip — check-in, TSA, and all the way through the airport to finding their gate and boarding an airplane.

And while waiting to board, Arc officials strongly encouraged families to explore the airport to help the person with the disability become familiar with the environment.

Not only is this exercise beneficial for families of those with disabilities but Washington said it’s also helpful for airport staff.

“It’s good for the staff to have exposure to people with disabilities to understand how they can work with the families to make the environment more friendly for travel…for everyone,” she said.

Wings for All serves as part of The Arc’s advocacy mission ensuring people with intellectual or developmental disabilities are equally able to participate in their communities like everyone else, according to the website.

Airport staff’s minimal understanding of an overstimulated traveler with disabilities can lead to families who become hesitant or fear air travel, then limit new experiences or visits with other loved ones who live far away.

The group collaborates with local organizations like VersAbility who strives toward improving the lives of people with disabilities on the Peninsula, to bring airport rehearsals to cities around the nation throughout the year.

Registration for the upcoming event at Norfolk International Airport is free and open to the public but space is limited, click here to sign up.

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