We want everybody to be able to fly comfortably through YVR, period. We are committed to providing the best possible airport environment for all users including people with disabilities, older adults and seniors. And we think we do a pretty darn good job. But, we definitely have room to make major improvements, which is why I was thrilled to have the Honourable Michelle Stilwell, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation visit YVR last week to not only discuss the ways in which YVR is succeeding in building an accessible airport, but also figure out some of the things we could be doing better.
We started off at the curb, where we offer a 15-minute pick up/drop off area for individuals who may need to be helped inside and have the SPARC parking permit. Minister Stilwell was pleased to learn of this offering, but wondered why in all of her trips to and from the airport she was just hearing about it now. Lesson one: don’t just have the service available, advertise it appropriately so people who need it, know it exists and can utilize it.
A terminal tour was next, where I had the chance to proudly point out a number of our accessibility features. There’s the new tiling that assists with directional cues for customers with vision impairments that leads towards security screening using high-contrast tile patterns, visual strobe alarms for customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, and universal access at all of our information counters. You can see a more complete list of our features here. They are plentiful and we are working hard on adding even more. But as we stopped near one of our new baggage carts, Minister Stilwell pointed out that our new handbrake, an important safety feature, actually makes it extremely difficult for somebody using a wheelchair to operate. Lesson two: Consider accessibility at every stage of design. We incorporate accessibility in all of our terminal project planning, but we can always be better, and we aim to find a workaround for the baggage cart.
Lastly, we took a look in one of our washrooms at YVR. Don’t worry, we made sure nobody was using the facility first. Minister Stilwell was impressed with the way we incorporated accessibility features in to the washroom design. Lowered counters, large stalls and barrier free entry were all things we had done right. But again, there were things we could be doing better. The paper towels were situated so that they couldn’t reached, and the hook on the back of the accessible stall was placed too high up. So, after all that careful planning, two little things made all the difference between a positive and negative experience. Lesson three: the small details can make a big impact.
YVR also provides specialized disability awareness training to our Airport Authority employees. This combination of simulation and lecture style training ensures that YVR staff understand the appropriate language, communication and assistance techniques required to support people with disabilities in all situations. There are dedicated consultants who guide us on our decision-making and design processes. Minimizing obstacles for people with disabilities, seniors, older adults and anyone requiring support in our terminal facilities has been a YVR priority since the very beginning, and we are currently in the process of a complete review of all of our services, terminal design and operations. We are focused on creating a world class inclusive and welcoming accessible airport experience and have made a commitment to providing meaningful access for people with disabilities in all areas of facility design and our operation. While there is still a lot to learn and a long way to go to reach our goal of being the world’s most accessible airport, our entire team is behind this goal.
Part of that journey includes my appointment as co-chair of the Presidents Group (along with fellow YVR Board member Tamara Vrooman). Presidents Group is an advisory committee to government that champions advice, learnings, employment and consumer opportunities and improved outcomes for people with disabilities. I plan on using my experiences at YVR to contribute to Presidents Group and effect real change. Look for a video of Minister Stilwell’s visit to YVR coming soon, and look for more improvements to accessibility at YVR as we aim to go well beyond just meeting industry code, but offer the best possible travel experience for absolutely everybody, no exceptions.