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ABE Supports the Hidden Disabilities Program

ABE Supports the Hidden Disabilities Program

May 24, 2022

Last month, a new program was introduced at Lehigh Valley International (ABE):

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard.

Created at Gatwick Airport in England in 2016, Hidden Disabilities is a program that benefits customers who may need a little extra help or time as they navigate the airport and the security checkpoint due to a “hidden” disability in order to make travel more accessible and inclusive.

Hidden disabilities include intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD); Alzheimer’s / dementia, cognitive impairment, and brain injury; the autism spectrum; chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia; deaf and/or hard of hearing; blindness and/or low vision; anxiety, depression, PTSD, and many more.

The Sunflower Lanyard, with its green background and vibrant sunflower design, will let trained ABE staff know that the wearer will need assistance without the wearer needing to ask.

“I attended an AAAE/ACI-NA Airport Customer Experience Symposium in 2019 when I first learned about the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program,” said Paula Bonstein, Customer Experience Manager at ABE. “I was intrigued given the work we do at ABE with the autism community by offering a Sensory Room beyond our TSA Checkpoint as well as the annual Wings for All event.  It is the perfect additional resource for those with hidden disabilities.”

With full administrative support, Bonstein worked with the Hidden Disabilities New York headquarters to set up an account and contacted other member airports for their experience and advice on moving forward with the Sunflower Lanyard Program at ABE. Next came the training, first for herself and then ABE staff.

The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties was brought on board to help with training.

“We only recently learned about the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Program from the team at ABE and we are ecstatic to see this program is already live and available for people flying out of the Lehigh Valley!” said Chris Kaklamanis, Chief Development Officer. “We at The Arc are thrilled to partner with the team at ABE to roll out this Program. The launch of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Program at ABE perfectly aligns with our mission and work to champion a life of inclusion, opportunity, and equity for people with IDD living in Lehigh and Northampton Counties! Kudos to our friends at ABE for always working to make air travel more inclusive and accessible for everyone wanting to fly!”

His enthusiasm is shared by the staff at ABE. After the initial training was done with department managers who would work as program advocates and help train their own staff, inquiries began coming in regarding in-person training from Allegiant, Delta, American, and United staff, as well as new ABE employees, which led to planning monthly training sessions for all interested and customer-facing staff.

A pin with a bright yellow sunflower on a white background with the words “I support the Sunflower” is worn by all trained ABE staff either on their badge lanyards or on their uniforms to indicate that they can offer additional understanding and assistance to those wearing the Sunflower Lanyard.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Program is one of many ways that ABE strives to make our airport to be one of inclusion, compassion, and understanding for all of our customers. Please visit the Passenger Experience page on our website for more information about the amenities, programs, and services available at ABE.

For more information about the Hidden Disabilities Program in the US, please visit their website https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/us/.

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