A guest Blog from Pat Hornbecker
Pat Hornbecker is the mother of an adult son with a developmental disability and is a tireless advocate. Pat has served on the Board of The Arc of San Francisco, the Board of The Arc of California where she served as president, and the Board of Directors of The Arc of the United States. Currently she is back with the Arc of California, the advocacy office of the 22 Arc chapters in the state, and serves as its Secretary.
Setting the Stage
Rarely is there such a teaching and learning exchange as I experienced yesterday (Saturday, September 30, 2017) at the San Jose Airport. I’d like to say thank you to The Arc Alameda County in collaboration with Parents Helping Parents (PHP) and some local school districts who provided this incredible experience through the “Wings for All” program from The Arc U.S. It was a collaborative effort uniting San Jose Airport (SJC) personnel, Southwest Airline (SWA) volunteer staff, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers to create and facilitate a successful airport travel experience for people with special needs.
There were 72 participants (including family members), a very diverse, international group of people with disabilities ranging in age and abilities, from a 3-year-old at an Arc daycare center to a 37-year-old living with Supported Living Services.
We all arrived at SJC at 3pm to start the ticketing/boarding pass, security check, gate waiting, boarding, and deboarding journey. It was heartwarming to see the enthusiasm of Southwest’s volunteer staff as we registered and picked up our boarding passes. There were pilots, flight attendants and ticket agents all volunteering their time today for us. As we headed to security escorted by our SWA staff, anxieties increased and the line-waiting began…..The TSA staff allowed us to use the walk-through arch for everyone, vs. the x-ray machine. Staff were cognizant to keep families together, did not require all objects to be removed from hands. The communication between families and staff went smoothly as behaviors erupted and staff listened to the cues from families trying to facilitate the process. One teenage girl with Autism was making loud noises while waiting in the security area. The TSA staff were tolerant and patient as they listened to the father’s directions to his daughter and the others around. She was safely escorted though security.
The Human Element
This is where I learned about TSA Cares, an arm of the Transportation Security Administration that operates to provide travelers with disabilities, medical conditions, or other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process. They currently only operate in some airports but you can call to see if your airport has this service and request an escort from the curb through security to your departure gate.
It was clearly a successful event as I witnessed the volunteers learn lessons in patience, how to listen to people with disabilities, the cues from their family members and not to presume or judge the actions. We all learned how to better react to new and different behaviors in unexpected situations. All the families were extremely grateful for the chance to experience this airport adventure under the comforting guidance of the trained staff of SWA, TSA and SJC personnel. I think families learned a few tricks to better prepare themselves as they travel in the future.
Personally, the day went as I expected for me and my son, Joseph. It was clear from the start that I needed more than just myself to make this journey. I needed to seek support from airline staff just so I could use a restroom. I realized that the bathrooms in an airplane are too small for 2 adults should Joseph need one mid-flight? The flight attendant assured me that accommodations could be made that would respect his privacy and facilitate the task. Joseph gave himself a standing ovation as he exited the jet bridge; and the crowd of volunteers joined him in a round of applause!
Southwest Airlines congratulated each participant with the gift of a backpack with the “Wings for All” logo on it. Thank you to Southwest Airlines, San Jose Airport personnel, TSA staff, The Arc Alameda Co., Parents Helping Parents, and The Arc U.S.