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Gatwick’s Accessibility Day helps to make the airport ‘a less scary place’ for those with hidden disabilities

Currently around 19% of the UK population have a disability and 11% a hidden disability. As much as 7% of the UK population is thought to avoid air travel because of a disability.

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Photo: Tony Pick Photography

Airports can be challenging, confusing environments and more than 40 local families with a family member who has a hidden disability – and their carers – attended Gatwick on Sunday (8 April) for an event designed to make airports feel like ‘a less scary place’.

Held in the North Terminal, Gatwick’s Accessibility Day helped to familiarise people with a hidden disability – and their families and carers – with the sights and sounds of an airport so they have a practical overview of airport processes before they travel.

To simulate the airport environment Sunday’s event included:

• Staff from airlines – Virgin Atlantic and TUI – taking families through the check in process
• Gatwick’s Special Assistance Services team, Wilson James, providing buggy rides
• Gatwick staff taking families through the security process in a fun and relaxed way
• Border Force officials introducing some of their search dogs
• Police officers and a fire engine were also on hand to replicate the entire airport experience

Currently around 19% of the UK population have a disability and 11% a hidden disability. As much as 7% of the UK population is thought to avoid air travel because of a disability.

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Gatwick is aiming to be the most accessible airport in the UK and is currently engaging with a broad range of disability groups to help ensure that the airport makes its services accessible for everyone.

Nikki Barton, Head of Terminals, Gatwick Airport, said:

“Our Accessibility Days have proved very popular and I would like to thank all those who gave up their Sunday to make it happen. Feedback suggests that families find these events a very useful and practical way of making the airport feel like a less scary place before they travel.

“Events like this are also a great way of hearing about what our passengers find useful or would like to see at Gatwick to make their journey more pleasant and less stressful. We know that we will not get it right all of the time, but we are determined to keep talking to disability groups and passengers to encourage more feedback and develop new learning mechanisms to help us constantly improve our accessibility services, facilities and training.”

Maria Cook, Gatwick’s Autism Ambassador, said:

“I would like to thank everyone from organisations across the airport who volunteered their free time to be part of our latest Accessibility Day.

“I am extremely proud to be involved in events like these and to have played a part helping Gatwick to become the first UK airport to be accredited as Autism Friendly and retain its accreditation for the second year running. An important part of the accreditation processes was introducing a Hidden Disability Lanyard and it’s extremely encouraging to hear that airports from across the world are contacting Gatwick for information to help them introduce the lanyard schemes of their own.”

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Gatwick

Gatwick launches schools programme to engage pupils with engineering

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Picture caption (left to right): Douglas McCartney, one of the winners of the ‘If you were an Engineer, what would you do’ competition with a prototype of his invention, a Flat Pack Wind Turbine, Maisie Crook, with the Bicycle Sucker prototype to suck water up from a well using the mechanics of the bike as power, Savannagh, who designed a self-adjusting sink to automatically rise or lower dependent on the users height, and Krystyna Marshall, with her prototype Spinal Muscular Atrophy jacket enabling greater mobility and physical support.

The programme will involve 15 primary schools and five local secondary schools near to Gatwick and – as part of their continued professional development – the teachers will be offered opportunities to learn new techniques that bring engineering-related projects to life in the classroom and in the school curriculum.

Engineers from Gatwick will also visit the schools and arrange airport tours to build interest and connections between local young people and engineers in the field. 

To deliver the programme, Gatwick is partnering with Primary Engineer and Secondary Engineer – a not for profit educational organisation that aims to improve primary and secondary school pupils’ skills, awareness of engineering and potential career pathways through teacher training, whole class projects and provides a mechanism for close collaboration with pupils, educators, industry and parents.

Gatwick’s Head Engineer, Antony Yates, said:

Inspiring the next generation of engineers is vital for Gatwick Airport and thousands of other businesses up and down the country. 

“Our aim is to make engineering interesting to all, irrespective of gender or socio-economic background. Ultimately we want to make sure that we have a pipeline of young local engineering talent that can come and keep the airport, our partners and our supply chains running in the years ahead”

The UK Government says that over 200,000 new engineers are required per year to meet the demands of modern society.

To launch the programme – and inspire young people – Gatwick has joined with Facebook and Network Rail as national partners in the ‘If you were an Engineer, what would you do’ competition.  Primary Engineer runs the competition which encourages pupils to design engineering solutions to problems they have identified.

Over 49,000 children from across the UK entered the competition in 2018/19 – 50% of them female. A giant advertising hoarding called “The Wall of Fame” will showcase designs from around the UK which have been brought to life by engineers at supporting universities.

The exhibition will be on display in the South Terminal for three weeks from 13th August enabling Gatwick’s 125,000 plus daily visitors to vote for their favourite creation.

On display will be two winners from the South East including Maisie, from Rowan Preparatory School, Claygate, Surrey, who designed The Bicycle Sucker to suck water up from a well in water-deprived areas using the mechanics of the bike as power.  Isabelle from Wonersh and Shamley Green C of E Primary School in Guildford will also show her design for a The Super Hearing Set, a hearing device which allows the user to hear certain sources of sound.

Other prototypes that will be at the airport include a Flat pack wind Turbine’ to be used in refugee camps and disaster situations.  The Turbine was designed by Doulas from Edinburgh when he was 15 years old.  A prototype of a Jacket to support sufferers of Spinal Muscular Atrophy enabling greater mobility and physical support will also be on display. Krystyna from Burnely was 14 when she designed the jacket.

Dr. Susan Scurlock, MBE, founder of Primary Engineer said:

This exhibition at one of the most important travel hubs in the UK is testament to the commitment of our partner organisations who rely on a variety of engineering professionals to keep ahead of the game. Each year I am astounded by the designs by pupils, some as young as three as they realise that they can be part of a career that can literally shape the future of the world.”

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