Making Travel Better for Autistic People
December 06, 2023
By: Sherri Alms
With the holidays upon us, many of us are traveling – to get away for a vacation or to visit family members. For autistic people, as well as the parents of autistic children, travel has often been too stressful and overwhelming to consider. Recent news articles have highlighted progress in the travel industry, with airlines, resorts, attractions, and hotels making efforts to attract and accommodate people with special needs and more specifically autism.
A September USA Today article described a mother’s and autistic daughter’s travel experiences, noting helpful resources throughout the article. One of those is Autism Double Checked, an organization that certifies companies and organizations to provide autism services. Autism Double Checked also plans to introduce a searchable directory so that autistic individuals and families with an autistic child can find hotels, airlines, and attractions with autism-helpful staff and resources. For example, at certified Virgin Hotels (in New York City, Nashville, and Chicago), staff members have been trained in how to welcome and assist autistic guests and their families. A visitor’s guide for autistic hotel guests provides information on sensory areas in the hotel and when certain parts of the hotel are likely to be crowded, noisy, or both. The concierge also has information for autism-friendly activities and establishments in the area. Rooms have hanging alarms so that parents will know if a child tries to leave the room.
An August USA Today article listing travel tips noted that autistic travelers can also find travel resources through AutismTravel.com, a website created by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) to provide autism-friendly travel information, with directories of destinations, travel agents, and other resources.
KultureCity trains businesses and organizations to understand sensory needs and learn how to better engage with individuals with sensory needs. An app and a directory on the KultureCity website show where those certified businesses are and what they offer.
Both articles described an initiative, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, that provides lanyards with sunflowers on them so that people with disabilities that are not visible have a way of easily sharing that they may require understanding and assistance. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower website says that the Sunflower has been launched locally in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Latin America, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. When a business becomes a member, it commits to training its workforce using Sunflower’s online training. An online directory allows people to search for participating businesses and organizations.
For autistic air travelers, the Disabled Passenger with Intellectual or Developmental Disability Needing Assistance (DPNA) code can be added to a plane ticket at the passenger’s request when booking the flight. The code lets airline staff know that the passenger may need specialized assistance, like priority boarding or guaranteed seating with a companion.
The August article also mentioned TSA Cares, Wings for All, and Autism on the Seas. Through TSA Cares, passengers can request the assistance of a specialist trained to help individuals with special needs, including autism. The Arc created Wings for All, which hosts travel “rehearsals” at airports so that neurodivergent travelers and their families can navigate the airport and go through boarding before their trips.
Autism on the Seas partners with Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines to provide services like priority boarding, reserved seating, and onboard respite care for neurodivergent individuals and their families.
“Autism awareness training for the travel industry is a no-brainer; not only does it help to give neurodivergent travelers the important experience of travel, but it also benefits businesses by tapping into a large, growing, and loyal customer base,” said Alan Day, co-founder and CEO of Autism Double-Checked, in the September USA Today article.
Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.