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Cork Airport Launch Hidden Abilities Support Initiative

From The East Cork Journal.

Ahead of World Autism day on 2 April OCS, in conjunction with Cork Airport, has announced the introduction of the Sunflower Lanyard initiative. It is the first Airport in Ireland to do so. This is a scheme which will benefit air passengers who have hidden disabilities such as Autism. The provision of Sunflower Lanyards allow staff at Airports to recognise that someone has a disability without the need to be told, and they can then be on hand to support that traveller if needed.  No proof of diagnosis is needed to collect a Lanyard at the Airport, simply go to the OCS counter on site and collect one. Each Lanyard has a distinctive pattern that all staff are aware of and has a contact number attached to it to ask for assistance, should it be required.

So many disability-related facilities cater for mainly physical disabilities and are symbolised with a wheelchair icon. Autism, however, as well as other ‘hidden’ disabilities such as hearing loss or dementia which can also avail of the Sunflower Lanyard scheme, while not manifested in someone’s physical appearance, can be just as restrictive to daily life. People with Autism rely heavily on routine, and new situations, noises, crowds and queuing can make travelling extremely challenging. The introduction of this scheme as well as the recommended pre-travel preparation such as visiting the airport, social stories detailing what to expect, will help greatly.

ASD support groups across East Cork have welcomed the Sunflower Lanyard initiative at Cork Airport. Committee members of ‘Parents Together in Autism’ in Youghal, all with children on the autism spectrum, “welcome all supports that make a new experience for a child with Autism easier to deal with. Any stresses that can be reduced keep the holiday spirits up for the whole family. Holidays should be as enjoyable an experience as possible and that begins and ends at the local Airport.”

Speaking with Barry Gregg, Manager of OCS Support Services at Cork Airport said, “We’re delighted to have the Lanyard initiative up and running in Cork. Many family –orientated destination Airports across the UK, Europe and further afield have begun to adopt this initiative and we have done a lot of research locally to best implement it here. We always appreciate feedback from customers and we ask that, as staff training and learning continues and more projects of a similar type evolve and are implemented over the coming months and years here at Cork airport, our customers bear with us. We always aim for best practice standards, with a positive customer experience always our top priority.”

Sean Ahern, Co-Ordinator at Midleton Family Resource Centre said, “This invaluable and discreet service facilitates the reduction of additional stress felt by families travelling, for example, with a child on the Autism spectrum. It is great to see the Sunflower Lanyard scheme recognised and implemented across a growing number of Airports internationally and now here at home in Cork.” Eric Nolan, Labour Party Local Election Candidate and Cork Airport Worker Director Eric Nolan said ‘Travelling through Airports can be daunting. Cork Airport has always been a friendly welcoming place and this initiative takes that a step further. Not all disabilities are readily visible and I’ll be looking to implement schemes like this across East Cork if elected’.