Air travel can be an incredibly stressful experience. For those with a disability – it can feel like an insurmountable task.

For the past several years, Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) has proudly partnered with Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital to help ease the anxiety of those who are traveling with life-altering disabilities.

Patients from Brooks Rehab and their caregivers listen to TSA representatives explain the screening process for disabled passengers.

Imagine a life-changing event or accident that has made you wheelchair-bound for months or maybe for life. Adjusting to the “new normal” of navigating everyday activities with medical devices and equipment can be daunting.

Knowing the importance of helping disabled patients adjust to daily events was the impetus for developing a team to show patients air travel is still not only possible, but can be less stressful.

Staff from Brooks Rehab, JAX, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the airlines schedule special tours enabling residents and their caregivers to traverse the airport without the stress of having to catch a flight.

Starting at the ticket counter, patients are given information about communicating with the airlines regarding their special needs. When airlines know what is needed at check-in, movement to the gate, and assistance at the destination airport, stress can be greatly reduced. Even the size of the aircraft can make a difference in how the airlines accommodate on-board wheelchairs and boarding procedures.

A TSO describes the next procedure for screening.

Representatives from the TSA give detailed information about what to expect during the actual screening process. Once again, communication is key to ensuring the security personnel accommodate patients’ needs.

TSA also offers a wonderful program, TSA Cares, which provides one-on-one security screening assistance for those traveling with disabilities.

luther in aisle chair
A Brooks Rehab patient is strapped into an aisle chair by United station manager Paul DiDomenico.

The tour winds up at the gate, where patients can practice using an aisle chair. This specialized chair is used to move passengers from their wheelchairs to their seats on the aircraft.

It’s hard to describe the reaction Brooks Rehab clients have once they’ve completed the tour. Their restored sense of confidence, relief and determination to begin traveling again is incredibly moving.

“Many patients, family members, and even the Brooks staff who have attended this community re-integration outing to JIA have felt it to be very beneficial,” said Aubrey Lash, coordinator at the Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital. “The experience to simulate the entire airport process is priceless.”

What a privilege for all the team to be a part in making a difference in their lives.

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