By Erin O'Reilly, Corporate Communications
Delta people across the enterprise are doing their part to serve our customers with disabilities and connect them to the world, with many volunteers raising their hands to help for this year’s World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
Roughly 1 in 54 U.S. children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Individuals on the autism spectrum and their families are among those served by Delta people in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Atlanta through airport familiarization tours. The tours provide an opportunity for customers with various needs and abilities to become better prepared for their upcoming travel.
On these monthly tours, Delta people volunteer their time to guide participants through experiences such as TSA security screening procedures, exploring the terminal and boarding a plane. Participants can also gather helpful resources such as “inside flying tips” from volunteers who have connections to people with cognitive or physical disabilities.
“Because of my personal connection to autism, Navigating MSP is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done. The chance to work with other Delta employees that have the same goal of bringing hope to a large community that thought air travel would be an impossibility is heartwarming,” said First Officer Rich Kargel. “It also gives me a chance to give back to two entities that have been important and very good to me and my family, the autism community and Delta Air Lines.”
Rich, who has a son on the autism spectrum, helped to launch the Navigating MSP program in January 2013. This program gives people on the autism spectrum, as well as those with other disabilities, the opportunity to prepare for travel by boarding a plane to “Funsville” where volunteers simulate the boarding process including ticketing, announcements and closing the overhead bins to familiarize the participants with the sounds and experiences they will encounter. The program has since hosted 107 events with a total of over 4,300 participants.
After participating in the Navigating MSP program in October 2014, customer service agent Sandy Smith and Red Coat Maren Vargas advocated for and helped to initiate a Taking Flight tour at the Atlanta airport in April 2015, as well as a multisensory room in April 2016, to help calm and prepare families with children on the autism spectrum for their upcoming travel experience. More than 4,000 customers have benefited from the Atlanta program which now hosts three separate tours each month to assist customers with disabilities.
Both airports will operate Navigating MSP and Taking Flight tours tomorrow, April 2, coinciding with World Autism Awareness Day.
“Delta people have always gone above and beyond to serve our customers, and create inclusive experiences for all,” said Dana Folsom, Manager – Disability Programs. “Connecting the world looks different for every customer, and I am proud to work alongside people willing to go the extra mile to give all our customers that same opportunity for meaningful connections.”