paging systems) can be distracting, narrow
passages (jet bridges) can be a challenge, being
touched by strangers (security checkpoints) can very
disconcerting. However, repetition and familiarity
help abate some of these potential triggers.
There is a wonderful organization called the
Charles River Center (CRC), located outside of
Boston, which is a small non-profit that is a
chapter of a larger national organization known as
This program will provide airport employees
with the “do’s and don’ts” associated with helping
autistic children and adults. It creates a nationally
recognized system (a sticker with the “wings” logo)
that the child and family will wear while flying.
This is a simple and subtle reminder to all that a
special approach might be required to help make
the travel experience more enjoyable for all.
I started out this monologue talking about
careers and people. Most of us are blessed to
have a career in an industry that touches so many
lives. As AAAE members, we always can rely on
our association and fellow members to help us
along the way with training, knowledge, federal
legislative and regulatory assistance, to name but
a few of the benefits. As an industry, we help each
other with the challenges we face.
Today I’d like you to accept the challenge to
help a very special segment of our population by
opening up the world to a family who may not
be able to explore it because of the “epidemic” of
autism in this country. Together, we can develop
a network of airports that welcomes families
facing the challenges of autism and other learning
disabilities. And, more importantly, a network
that knows what to do or not do to make their
travel experience easier. Our collective efforts will
provide them easy access into the national air
transportation system and all of the benefits travel
means in the lives of those who fly.
I believe helping airports better serve this
growing population of future travelers is a goal
worthy of an industry’s attention. I believe it is
also a goal worthy for the AAAE Chair to highlight
on a national basis. I ask you, as fellow members
of the largest airport association in the world, to
join me in helping to pave the way for experiences
and journeys from your airport for individuals who
may need a little extra help.
You can help start these journeys by contacting
either Jennifer Robtoy (jrobtoy@charlesrivercenter.
org) at CRC or Karen Wolf-Branigin (
firstname.lastname@example.org) from The Arc to coordinate
training at your location. If you have a similar
organization in your community, Jennifer and/
or Karen can make the appropriate contacts to get
you started. This program is in the final stages of
development, and we expect the demand to be
high with the rollout this summer. So, get your
name on the list early. You will be happy you did
when you see the differences you will make in the
lives of families dealing with autism.
Sometimes images speak louder than the
printed word. We have posted a You Tube
video of the Wings for Autism training session
conducted at MHT, http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=dslhc6nu_ia. It is only five minutes
long but it will give you a sense of the Wings for
Autism program. You easily can scale it up or
down, depending on the size of your airport.
Most of us assume access to the air
transportation system is a given. For a growing
population, it is more challenging than it needs to
be. Together, as an industry, we can be part of the
solution to remedy that. Now that’s a worthy goal.
Mark Brewer, A.A.E., is director of Manchester-Boston Regional
Airport. He may be reached at email@example.com.