An International Airport Supports Hidden Disability the Cutest Way

Airports are overwhelming places at the best of times. Crowded, busy and filled with an overall feeling of urgency means they are generally not a space associated with calm and relaxation. They can also be spaces where emotions are heightened – whether it be sadness, joy, frustration or impatience.
Now imagine navigating this environment with a hidden disability – a condition that can make day-to-day life challenging but that isn’t visible to those around you. Your hidden disability may require you to alter your travel arrangements to suit you needs, but to your fellow travellers that might not make sense.
Thankfully airports around the country are embracing inclusivity and have become far more accommodating to non visible disabilities.
The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is an established program which allows people with hidden disabilities to make their condition known in a subtle but meaningful way.
Most commonly used is a green lanyard printed with bright yellow sunflowers – the iconography associated with hidden disabilities – which alerts airport staff that the wearer has a condition that may require some extra assistance, time or patience to navigate.
Elmo has been trained by Guide Dogs SA/NT to help create an inclusive and supportive environment within the airport, and does so by providing comfort to anyone who needs him.

Elmo joined the team in March 2022, when the airport recognised the challenges faced by passengers with hidden disabilities and the need to provide additional assistance and support. Elmo is available to passengers who may benefit from a dog’s calming presence, and can accompany passengers on “Calming Walks” through the terminal. Time with Elmo can be arranged via prior booking, but he is also available in the terminal on weekdays between 9am and 5pm.

Elmo is the only airport facility dog in Australia, and Adelaide Airport has gone to great lengths to implement his services seamlessly into their broader accessibility and inclusivity program. Elmo’s handlers have each completed 30 hours of training, which included onsite training and outings coordinated by Guide Dogs SA/NT. Handler training prepared Elmo to work obediently and unobtrusively in public places and ensured he was prepared to provide assistance to passengers in a safe and professional manner.

One of his handlers Maria says “Elmo is very patient and gentle with children and he enjoys cuddles and pats.”

“Elmo is also very intuitive and seems to have a special sense when it comes to comforting people who are anxious or upset. Overall, Elmo’s personality is a perfect fit for his role as a facility dog at Adelaide Airport.”

Elmo’s services are in addition to a number of other accessibility and inclusivity initiatives at Adelaide Airport, including:

– Wheelchair assistance
– Accessible restrooms
– Animal relief restrooms
– People movers
– Changing Places (adult-assisted changing facilities)
– Counter Hearing System (check-in counters for travellers who suffer from hearing impairments)
– Hearing Loops to assist people with hearing difficulties
– Airport volunteer ambassadors in the terminal to assist in providing customer service to passengers and visitors
– Special assistance security lanes, to ensure that all passengers feel welcome and supported

The airport also provides a sensory map that identifies high and low sensory areas to help navigate the terminal. The map can help you prepare to be in loud and crowded areas while identifying quiet spots to rest at.

Adelaide Airport staff are also extensively trained to recognise the needs of people with hidden disabilities and provide assistance where required.

It is this focus on inclusivity shared by all major airports in the nation that is making airline travel and airports much more accessible to all members of our community. Initiatives such as the hidden disabilities program and Elmo’s services make a meaningful difference in the lives of people with additional needs and move our community forward in terms of acceptance and understanding.

Source: Disability Support Guide

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