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Airport program to help those with hidden disabilities

December 3, 2019

Gold Coast Airport is launching a comprehensive and best practice program to assist passengers with a hidden disability following close consultation with key stakeholders, including Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect).

One of most comprehensive airport hidden disability programs in Australia, the new program includes a suite of planning tools and extensive employee training. The program will go live in the terminal today, coinciding with International Day of People with Disability.

The program includes:

o Hidden disability guide that can be downloaded from the Gold Coast Airport website

o Extensive self-guided education tools to help with pre-planning prior to a flight, including passenger journey videos and social stories

o Practical terminal facilities that offer a low sensory entry, low sensory bathroom, low sensory room and reserved seating at the boarding gates

o Terminal sensory map

o Lanyard identification program

o My Airport activity book

o Therapy dog program

Gold Coast Airport Chief Operating Officer Marion Charlton said hidden disabilities were increasingly recognised as part of disability programs.

“Both the diagnosis and awareness of hidden disabilities are on the rise in Australia and we felt the need to not only acknowledge this fact but to act on it by building a culture of acceptance amongst our employees and the wider airport community,” she said.

“It is estimated one in 70 Australians is living with autism and this could equate to around 90,000 passengers per year at Gold Coast Airport – and that’s just one example of a hidden disability.

“Airports can be busy places. We are doing what we can to encourage our passengers to plan for their journey ahead of time, particularly if they or a family member has a hidden disability.

“This is all about taking the stress out of travel for our passengers. If we can make their journey through our terminal more enjoyable, we will do so.”

Aspect was closely consulted during the planning of the hidden disability program.

Matthew Oastler, one of the Aspect consultants who worked with Gold Coast Airport staff, said the program was an example of world’s best practice and included consultation with, and significant input from, autistic people.

“At Aspect we know that by including autistic people in autism-friendly work, the outcomes will be better and will ultimately benefit the whole community, that is why we’ve had our autistic consultants involved in the Gold Coast Airport program from the very start," Mr Oastler said.

“Our staff have worked closely with the Gold Coast Airport to look at training staff, developing maps and social stories for the airport’s website and looking at ways to make the airport an easier place to navigate.

“We really believe Gold Coast Airport has gone above and beyond the often-tokenistic nod to people with a hidden disability and looked at all the issues facing someone with sensory, communication and anxiety issues – they should be congratulated.”

Ms Charlton said Aspect was contracted to lead an extensive awareness training program for terminal employees and airport partners ahead of the program launch, which will become a pre-requisite for the entire airport community moving forward.

The hidden disability program builds on Gold Coast Airport’s successful therapy dog program launched in December 2018.

Information about the hidden disabilities program is published on the Gold Coast Airport website, including animated videos guiding passengers on departing and arriving journeys, as well as a terminal sensory map and other tools to help in the planning process.

Passengers and their families interested in accessing the lanyard identification program, must register their interest at least 14 days before their day of travel and can contact the team via email at: hiddendisabilities@gcal.com.au

For more details on our hidden disabilities program, visit https://www.goldcoastairport.com.au/at-the-airport/hidden-disabilities

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