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Community Spotlight: MSP Airport Travelers with Disabilities Advisory Committee (Part 2)

An interview with Andrew Palmberg and Phil Burke

12/2/2020 11:21:11 AM

The exterior of an airport with a plane taking off towards the sun. Besides the airport are icons for service animals, a person with a cane, and accessible restrooms.

What kind of feedback has the Committee received from the community, and which feedback have become permanent fixtures at the airport?

Andrew: One example of feedback we received from the community was when the airport built a model bathroom of what they envisioned to do when they remodeled all the rest of the bathroom in the airport. In the model bathroom, they included a blowing air hand dryer. One of our community members who visited the model bathroom had an issue with the hand dryers which were in hearing aids that use t-coils, the hand dryer has a tendency to blow out the t-coil and damages the hearing aid. As a result of this feedback, the airport has decided to replace all bathroom hand dryers with paper towels.

Another feedback and change the airport has made based on feedback from our TDAC group that may not necessarily be visible to the public is the inclusion of our disabilities group into airport events. For the super bowl event in 2018, the MAC invited one representative from our TDAC committee to serve as the accessibility committee during Super Bowl LII planning to ensure the airport would be accessible for every traveler coming to Minnesota for the Super Bowl LII. Our representative met with the Super Bowl LII committee for meetings that started a year in advance in 2017 all the way up to the event day itself in 2018 making sure our disabilities community was included as much as possible and ensuring other people with disabilities from other states who may be traveling to the Super Bowl LII was included as well. Other events such as the Open House the MAC hosted at Mall of America to discuss the future of the airport, they have strived to ensure it was accessible by hiring a sign language interpreter for presentations and to communicate with staff as well. The MAC has also hosted an ADA 25th anniversary event at the airport main terminal as well acknowledging how important the ADA has been and continues to be and to serve the airport as a reminder to not only meet the minimum requirements of the code, but to go above and beyond to best serve their customers and travelers.

Phil: Another permanent fixture includes disabilities advocates being part of the triannual crash exercise we conduct. As part of the requirement to operate an airport the size of MSP, we must prove ourselves fit for the right every three years and the exercise usually revolves around an airplane crash and recovery efforts. We include members of the disabilities community as crash survivors and we don’t tell our emergency responders what type of disabilities they will encounter. It has become a great addition to our response and recovery efforts and planning.

What do you hope to see improved at the airport in the future? Any plans in the works?

Andrew: As Phil Burke mentioned, I would love to see more airlines become involved in our TDAC committee and help them be more aware of accessibility issues in their airline company and hope it spreads more within the company so they can become more accessible everywhere nationally. Also the main terminal, Terminal A, is undergoing renovations and you may have noticed in the past couple of years the airport has also renovated the majority of their concessions areas adding in wonderful new and local restaurants. Visitors to the airport should be able to see more open spaces in the main check in areas as well as the baggage claim levels which would increase sightlines and us deaf people love open spaces since it’ll be easier for us to communicate with others from afar! Many other changes are coming to the airport in the next couple of years so I’m very excited for our disabilities community as a whole to see the changes being made at the airport and the MAC has been great engaging with us on their plan for the renovations from day 1 and has continued to today.

Phil: We continue to work with all our stakeholders to ensure we are all aligned on the priority to provide an equitable experience for all of our customers. Some stakeholders like Delta Airlines are great partners, but we still have a ways to go before everyone is as on-board as Delta. 

Please share some access features that have accommodated all travelers, not just travelers with disabilities?

Andrew: One shining example of an accessibility feature benefiting everyone at the airport is the restroom stalls. As part of the remodeling efforts at the airport to renovate all the bathrooms, the airport architectural group looked at the ADA code and strived to go above and beyond the minimum code requirements. Usually, in a public restroom, a certain number of stalls had to be an “ambulatory stall” which is a bit wider and deeper in depth then a standard-sized stall. The airport design group decided instead of having to label which stall was an ambulatory stall, they would make every stall in the restroom an ambulatory stall. The result and feedback the airport had heard from other travelers was that travelers enjoy the extra space in the stall to place their baggage and other items they bring with them to the airport. The airport also had won the “Best Bathroom” award in North America in 2016 as a result as well. 

Phil: Another example is restaurant tables. An ADA compliant table has four legs versus a center base so someone utilizing a wheelchair can roll up to the table unimpeded. The ADA code requires a certain number of tables to be ADA compliant in an establishment. We have encouraged our concessionaires to install all ADA-compliant tables to benefit everyone. Not all have bought in, but those who have are finding that the ADA-compliant tables are less expensive! 

How can travelers share information regarding possible accessibility issues and/or barriers?

Andrew: The best way to contact us if you see something or think something could be improved related to the airport infrastructure would be to contact the Minnesota Commission of the Deaf, DeafBlind & Hard of Hearing (MNCDHH) and give your feedback to them and the Commission will contact me directly to give feedback to the airport during one of our regular meetings. As well as please do contact the Commission ( with any questions you may have about all the different amenities that the airport has, and I am more than glad to share them to you! 

Phil: The MAC has an ADA compliance coordinator, Tekia Jefferson – I would encourage anyone to contact her. She is also a member of TDAC. 

Anything you'd like to add?

Andrew: None of this would be possible with the wonderful partnership our Minnesota disabilities community has with the Metropolitan Airport Commission and how inclusive they have been with our voice and feedback we have on how to improve the airport accessibility. Also the MAC representative, Phil Burke, has been a wonderful leader and mediator between our community and the MAC group and none of this would be possible without his leadership so I want to thank him for including the disabilities group in all airport-related things and make changes due to our feedback. He has been a huge driver and a push for change in the airport to ensure we are included, and the disabilities component has been thought of and included in events, renovations, and policy changes.

Phil: I want to acknowledge all the time and talent our disabilities advocates devote to making MSP as accessible as it can be. The advocates do all this on a volunteer basis and their efforts are deeply appreciated!


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