By Eric Lipp, Founder and Executive Director, Open Doors Organization
From my personal perspective, the most important thing to come from the 2022 ACI Customer Experience Global Summit – held in Krakow, Poland this past September – was that the CEO and founder of Accessible Travel Solutions John Sage and I were there to be seen and heard on a panel dedicated to accessibility and inclusion at airports. As a person with a disability, I felt a lot of acceptance; meaning that delegates saw disability as an opportunity to do good rather than as a burden.
Every disability is different despite the fact that people with disabilities may use the same wheelchair, service animal, or hearing aids. Likewise, every airport is different. They may all welcome planes and passengers, but they offer different seating, bathroom designs, and a multitude of other idiosyncrasies. Thus having standards is difficult when no two disabilities or airports are alike.
So how do we create access and inclusion? Collaboration with disability groups and organizations is key: nothing about us is without us. Having a seat at the table is the first step in achieving access. ACI has respectfully shown that they are ready to build access into its very fabric as an organization because of their willingness to prioritize inclusion and collaborate with diverse disability groups.
And while the Customer Experience Global Summit was designed with accessibility in mind, barriers were experienced in other areas of daily life, such as the ones seen in city centres. For example, some attendees noticed my struggle to ride my scooter in the streets and sidewalks from the hotel to the convention centre during the event. I could feel the sympathy as they tried to tackle the issues that I sometimes face every day.
We are still coming through one of the most difficult periods the aviation industry has ever faced but as consumers begin to fly again, the leisure traveller is one of the first groups to return to the skies in the US. Two of the largest groups in leisure travel, older adults and people with disabilities, are at the forefront of this return to travel.
Today’s environment of equity and equality will help create a more accessible future for people with disabilities. Now is an important time for access in aviation and there needs to be a clear message that we are all on board for accessibility in 2023 and beyond. ACI has been working on new ways to promote greater accessibility and inclusion to their membership with the launch of the Accessibility Enhancement Accreditation Program, spearheading the first International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Resolution on accessibility of air transport to persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility, and is now including a new question in the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) survey to gather passenger feedback. In addition, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has taken a strong and influential position on many topics in access and with their support we will see change globally.
The excitement is back! People want to explore the world now more than ever. We want airports of the future to reflect their local communities. The doors to the world’s airports are open for business, and they are constantly adding new accessible features. From autonomous wheelchairs to large accessible restrooms with amazing amenities, we see a bright future in air travel. We want airport doors to be open to everyone and by working together we create change.
We have greatly evolved since the first Open Doors Organization’s Universal Access in Aviation event in 2002. At the time airports in the US did not even have any service animal relief area or sensory room for example. Fast forward to today, airports now have numerous programs and services to enhance accessibility and increase staff awareness of the needs of people with disabilities. For instance, Delta, Chicago O’Hare Airport and Shirley Ryan Abilities Lab partnered to create an outpatient, recreation therapy room. Many other examples can be found in the ACI World Airports & Persons with Disabilities Handbook.
Now in my 23rd year at Open Doors Organization, the organization continues to live up to its reputation for excellence. I am proud to have been able to touch so many lives and create so much change in our two decades of social action, research, and advocacy but especially want to thank the industry for accepting me and the Open Doors Organization.
Eric Lipp founded Open Doors Organization (ODO) in 2000, after personally experiencing the restrictions that people with disabilities face in everyday life. At 30 years old, Eric was diagnosed with Von Hippel Lindau (VHL) and as a result of a spinal cord tumor, experiences reduced mobility and a number of medical conditions.
Eric is a recognized expert in aviation accessibility regulations and universal design. He is a member of the TSA Aviation Security Advisory Council (ASAC). He speaks globally on access in travel and tourism and represents the disability community in aviation on numerous accessibility advisory boards including that of IATA, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, PDX, PIT, MSP and SEA.