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Travelers with Disabilities Advisory Committee Influences Airport Accessibility

An interview with Anne & Andrew

8/20/2018 2:30:59 PM

ASL version

If you are DeafBlind or prefer to watch the video in a slow-paced, high contrast format, watch the DeafBlind friendlier ASL version instead.

English version

Anne: Hi! I'm Anne Sittner Anderson. I'm the Communications Coordinator at the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH).

Andrew: My name is Andrew Palmberg. I am here as a representative for TDAC (Travelers with Disabilities Advisory Committee) at the airport. I represent MNCDHH on the Committee. Today we will talk about what TDAC is, what TDAC does, and why TDAC matters to you.

Anne: Plus we will share our experiences with crash simulations. 

(photo of grounded plane and two fire trucks)

Anne: Enjoy watching us! Come on!

Question 1: Can you share information about how you became involved with the Travelers with Disabilities Advisory Committee (TDAC)? 

Andrew: I joined TDAC back in 2014. I work here at the Commission (MNCDHH). Mary Hartnett asked me if I wanted to join the airport's committee to advise the airport on how to make the airport more accessible for people with disabilities. I had interest because I love airplanes and transportation, and I have an architectural background. I said, "Yes. Sure, I will join." I joined in 2014. I became the Chairperson of that committee in 2015 through today. 

Question 2: Tell us more about TDAC. What does it do and how does it work? 

Andrew: TDAC is an acronym for the Travelers with Disabilities Advisory Committee at the airport (MSP: Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport). The committee was set up in 2014 by Phil Burke, Director of MSP Operations. He had an interest in making the airport (MSP) more accessible for people with disabilities. Our motto is to promote equitable access for all airport users. How do we do that We have members on TDAC who are deaf, blind, deafblind, people with muscular dystrophy, and people with autism. There are several disabilities represented on that committee. We meet about four times a year to discuss accessibility topics the airport wants us to think about and give feedback. We give feedback and the airport decides to establish a new policy or a new service to make the airport more accessible. Since 2014 to now (2018), we are still continuing work on improving the airport and hopefully will continue in the future.

Question 3: What has MSP Airport done to make the airport more accessible?

Andrew: MSP improved accessibility at the airport in many ways. Some examples include VRI (Video Remote Interpreting) at all information booths at the airport. Staff members can use their tablet to connect with the VRI service and speak with deaf or hard of hearing customers who use sign language to communicate. Staff members can help them find restaurants, restrooms, or help. The airport has that accessibility now. 

(photo of a room full of crash simulation participants, some seated, some standing, and including Anne, facing forward during the orientation)

Andrew: Secondly, all restaurants are required to have TV captions on. Thirdly, the airport improved the rest area for service dogs to make it more beautiful and more efficient so people may feel comfortable using that space for their service dog. Fourthly, VRS (Video Relay Service) is coming soon; a phone service for deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind who use sign language can use VRS at the airport. It's coming soon; it's not yet available. That's a few examples of how the airport improved accessibility but there's really a lot more.

Question 4: If a traveler notices an accessibility issue, what should they do? 

Andrew: If you notice accessibility issues or you have comments on how to make the airport more accessible, please contact MNCDHH (the Commission): Please contact them. The Commission will inform me and I will bring up the issues at the airport at our next meeting. Thank you.

Question 5: What is a crash simulation and why does the airport do this? 

Andrew: What is a crash simulation? It's a simulated air force crash at MSP (Minneapolis). They do that to train firefighters, police, and ambulance responders to a crash; and also outside firefighters and police who respond from outside the airport to help the airport staff. That training exercise is also required by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Every three years, the airport must do a simulation. That exercise also helps train the airport staff's public affairs team because newspaper and TV reporters arrive at the airport to ask why the plane crashed, what happened, and how many people lived. The airport can practice how to respond to those kinds of questions. 

(photo of the fire truck spraying water from approximately 4 hoses)

Andrew: It also trains staff members who are trained in helping survivors from that aircraft crash: help them find the next flight, find them a hotel room, and help them find their car if they can't find it. That's why the airport does that every three years as required by the FAA.

Question 6: Describe your role and your experience during the crash simulation. 

Anne: One day Andrew contacted the Commission and said the airport wants a deaf person involved with a crash simulation. I volunteered because it was a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity to do that. Andrew sent me all the information I needed to know: where to go, what time, etc. I showed up, showed my ID, checked in, and moved along. I was given my role: "survivor" (not injured). I went into orientation where they explained all the rules, what to expect, etc. The airport hired an interpreter for me. That interpreter only covered before and after the simulation because they needed a 'real life' experience. If I was alone during a crash, they needed to know what my experience would be like--obviously I wouldn't have an interpreter at that moment. I took a bus to where the crash simulation was happening: the runway field. It had an old plane there. I moved along with my group. Some people's role was "injured" so some sat around with "injuries." Some people were "dead" so they played dead. I was a "survivor" so I sat around waiting. Because I wasn't injured, I waited the longest. When the firefighters arrived, they saw all the smoke. The first thing they did was spray water from the truck to put out the fire. It was cool to see the water in action. I had no idea trucks hold that much water! Then after the fire was put out, the firefighters came around to assess who were injured, who were alive, who were not alive; and grouped them together. I waited and looked around. I felt lost without information--that, I think, was a 'real life' experience of a survivor: looking around unsure of what's going on. When you contact a police officer or firefighter, you use gestures. Some wrote notes; some were more creative. One firefighter asked around: "Anyone have pen and paper?" It was interesting to see my experience interacting with different emergency respondents--how each handled. One firefighter came up to me speaking and I gestured I couldn't understand. They only held my hands crossed over my head. I didn't know what that meant and found out later it meant I wasn't injured. So, a lot of waiting because I wasn't injured. I observed them assess and take care of the injured first. Finally it was our turn to ride the bus to the survivors' center where they had Red Cross volunteers, food, and water. They sat me down and wrote on paper--told me they will have an interpreter for me. I expected a live in-person interpreter but found a laptop instead that was connected with a VRI. I was surprised. I've never used a VRI before but I was fine with using one. I remember thinking: "OK, this is a good backup to have: a VRI." I think if I was a little kid, if I was deafblind, or if I was emotional, then a VRI probably wouldn't work. Hopefully the airport has a plan if they need a backup in that situation. When we were finished, they thanked me and let me go; and that's my story. I know you have a lot more experience, Andrew.

Andrew: Yes, I've had two experiences with crash simulations. One in 2015 and also recently in 2018. In 2015, I had the same experience as Anne. I became a survivor on the field and pretended my arm was broken. The first time I did that, I don't know what I expected. Like Anne, I experienced riding a bus to an old aircraft. I got off, walked, and waited. When the exercise started, I saw a fire truck drive up and spray water around. It was cool! When that finished, firefighters went over to where survivors or victims were. Firefighters checked each person and then approached me. I signed that I'm deaf and asked what they were saying. The firefighter got awkward and didn't know what to do. They needed help. During that exercise, they pretended there was an interpreter there. So the interpreter--a real interpreter, yes--translated for the firefighter to me. For that first year, that was MSP's first time they invited a person with a disability. They wanted to start slow before picking up more experience. That's why they had an interpreter the first year. During that experience, it felt like it was almost not real yet but it gave firefighters an interesting experience figuring out what to do. The plane was from Amsterdam--so what happens if there's a person on that plane who doesn't speak English? Same concept: a deaf person who can't communicate. So, it was a good experience for the first responders to address that issue. For the second year (2018), the airport involved a deaf person (Anne) and also a blind person who had a service dog with him; so the airport has experience with a service dog and becoming a survivor. My role in 2018 was "observer"--watch everything: how first responders interacted with Anne and with the person who is blind. My job was to report what I noticed the airport did, what they could do better next time, and what could be improved. I did that for the 2018 crash simulation.

Question 7: Why is it important to include people with disabilities in the crash simulation? 

Anne: Why is it important to include people with disabilities? 1 in 5 persons here in the USA has a disability. Many people with disabilities do experience things like car accidents, hurricanes, earthquakes, and plane crashes. It's a good experience for training to develop muscle memory and have a better idea of what to do and how to manage that. It's a good experience for emergency responders to think about communication barriers and what can be done to address them. I'm happy and I appreciate the airport included people with disabilities for this training exercise. I think it's important and I'm hoping in three years they'll include the deafblind in the training exercise. I'm letting you know, Andrew!

Andrew: OK! I'm looking forward to it in three years.

Anne: Good!

Andrew: Also, I think it's important to include people with disabilities because now with the 'baby boomers'-- those people are getting older and are now almost over the age of 60. They'll have a big population of people with disabilities or are in need of additional assistance. Also, my comments from the previous question applies, too: what happens if a person who can't communicate in English comes and is involved in a crash? How will they get information? What's their injury? Do they need help? How does interaction work? People with disabilities--for example, deaf people can inform first responders how to interact with people who can't communicate well or in a different way than what they're used to.

Anne: Right.

Photo slideshow

(photo of a fire truck shooting water at the aircraft)

(photo of firemen preparing to board the aircraft)

(photo of Andrew standing in a circle with the other crash simulation observers/evaluators)

(photo of Ken Rodgers and his service animal preparing the board a bus to be taken to the Survivor Center)

(photo of a police officer signing, "thank you.")

(photo of Anne sitting on the bus in the middle of communicating with the off-screen police officer)

All pictures provided by the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Thank you for watching

Anne: Thank you for watching this interview. Hopefully, you learned from, benefited from, and enjoyed our experiences with crash simulations. Plus that you learned more about TDAC.

Andrew: The MSP airport is still improving accessibility. If you have ideas or opinions, please contact MNCDHH. The Commission will inform me and I can inform the airport who will know what to do and how to improve. Thanks for watching!


emergency management

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