How Can Airports Assist Travelers with Vision Loss?

In honor of the upcoming holidays and with travel season in full swing, we are revisiting a popular post about airport accessibility for people with vision loss. I spoke with several Lighthouse colleagues to learn about some of the tips and tricks they use to travel independently in airports.

Many accommodations can be helpful to passengers who are blind or visually impaired. These include:

  • Escort assistance from airline personnel to and from gates, ticketing counters, baggage claim, etc.
  • Braille and large print signs
  • Audio announcements about flight information
  • Service animal relief areas

Not everyone requires all of this assistance. For example, the relief area for service animals would be useless to someone who uses a white cane, and large print signs would be of no help to a person who is totally blind but very useful for someone with low vision. Some travelers prefer not to use some or all of this assistance, and that is perfectly ok. Depending on a person’s experience and comfort level, he or she will decide how much – if any – assistance is needed.

Jim Kesteloot, former Chicago Lighthouse executive director is a frequent flier and is particularly familiar with Chicago O’Hare airport. Since he has traveled throughout the United States for many years, Jim does not seek assistance from airlines. Instead he prefers to utilize some of the other accommodations available to passengers with disabilities. One of the things he likes about Terminal 3 at O’Hare is that the gate numbers are in large print and have a visual contrast that is easy to distinguish. He also relies on audible flight information and can hear the announcements in that same terminal with no problems.

Sammi Grant, former Lighthouse volunteer coordinator, requests assistance from airline personnel to escort her when traveling alone. She has found that while this accommodation is very helpful, the service depends mainly on the airline staff and their awareness of the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. Sammi feels that an airport’s accessibility features would not be a deciding factor for her when planning a trip.

Another factor that is important but not considered an accommodation specific for people with disabilities is the distance between different terminals in an airport. Bill Jurek, the director of the Chicagoland Reading and Information Service (CRIS) Radio at The Chicago Lighthouse also travels frequently to and from O’hare Airport. One of the things he particularly likes about O’Hare is that the terminals and gates are connected. In other words he does not have to take a train or shuttle from the terminal in order to get to the gate to catch his plane.

Like Sammi, Bill requests assistance from the airline. He uses a dog guide and often asks for bulkhead seating in airplanes. Bill says that airline staff will often “go out of their way” to accommodate his needs.

As someone who is totally blind, I also request assistance when flying by myself. This is very helpful given that I am not a frequent flyer and therefore I have not had the chance to familiarize myself with specific airports. I too have found that generally airline and TSA staff are very accommodating.

There are many accommodations available to airport travelers with vision loss. Always consider your needs and preferences, and if possible do research and familiarize yourself beforehand with the airports you will be traveling to. For more airport travel tips, check out this article from VisionAware. Happy holidays, and enjoy your trip!

The Sandy’s View team wishes everyone a happy holiday season. We will return after the holidays with more enjoyable and informative posts. In the meantime, please feel free to leave your thoughts or questions in the comments section, or email them to sandysview@chicagolighthouse.org.


sandy speaking

Sandy Murillo works at The Chicago Lighthouse, an organization serving the blind and visually impaired. She is the author of Sandy’s View, a bi-weekly Lighthouse blog about blindness and low vision. The blog covers topics of interest to those living with blindness and vision impairments. Being a blind journalist and blogger herself, Sandy shares her unique perspective about ways to live and cope with vision loss.

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