Wisconsin Public Radio

Milwaukee Airport Rolls Out Program for Unseen Disabilities

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport providing lanyards to identify people that may need assistance.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Dec 31st, 2021 11:42 am
Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport is the first in the state to implement a program to help people with non-visible disabilities have a better air travel experience.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program began in 2016 at London Gatwick Airport. People with medical conditions like chronic pain, anxiety or a learning disability — known as hidden disabilities — can ask for a special free sunflower lanyard when they enter the airport and receive help from staff and volunteers in navigating the airport to their flight.

The lanyards will allow staff to more easily identify people who may need assistance.

“Individuals who choose to wear the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard can discreetly identify that they may need some extra support or help at the Airport. Maybe they need a little more time at the TSA checkpoint or while visiting MKE’s great shops and restaurants,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said.

Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

Photo Courtesy of Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

Crowded airports can be stressful for anyone, but are especially challenging for people without hidden disabilities. Programs already exist at most airports for those who need a service animal or are in a wheelchair.

Airport officials expect the program to be helpful for someone with autism, for example, who may be sensitive to light and sound.

“There are quieter areas of the airport that they can give directions to,” said Stephanie Staudinger, Mitchell International marketing and public relations coordinator. “There’s a meditation room that’s typically quiet if the noise and the sounds get to be overwhelming and everything.”

Hidden disabilities include chronic pain, mental health conditions, mobility issues, speech impairments and vision or hearing loss. These also include respiratory conditions like diabetes, chronic pain or sleep disorders that can impact day-to-day life.

Staudinger said people who may benefit from the extra help can ask for Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyards at the information desk at the airport’s entrance with no questions asked.

“You don’t have to disclose what disability you have. That’s not our business,” she said. “You don’t need to tell us. You can just come right out and say you would like one of these for a little extra assistance.”

While the program is new to Wisconsin, dozens of other airports in the United States and the world are offering it. County Executive Crowley also said the program fits in with the county’s initiative to make the area more equitable.

“The great thing about this program is its popping up internationally,” Staudinger said. “I think the more this program grows, and it expands in airports, it might just help everybody help everybody.”

Program at Milwaukee airport will help people with unseen disabilities get to their flights was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

2 thoughts on “Milwaukee Airport Rolls Out Program for Unseen Disabilities”

  1. Mingus says:

    This is an excellent idea. Hopefully high level staff training and followup by the administration will make this program work well.

  2. jlkapr2937 says:

    An important and wonderful step forward for Milwaukee and its travelers.

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