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Creating an inclusive experience at the airport

SEPANG: Navigating through an airport can be an exciting experience for many people but the reality is that for most, it is a daunting one, with various security checks and interactions involved.

For those with hidden disabilities such as autism, this daunting experience can be extremely overwhelming, and even frightening.

It was with this group of passengers in mind that Malaysia Airports embarked on an initiative to make the airport more friendly and inclusive.

This initiative, called The Butterfly Effect, is inspired by the theory of the same name which depicts how a small change in one state can make a big difference at a later state.

Passengers with hidden disabilities are given a Butterfly Kit, which contains a special identification lanyard so that they can be easily identified by the airport community.

As an airport operator, Malaysia Airports strives to ensure a joyful connection for everyone at the airports, living up to its service philosophy of Hosting Joyful Connections.

This goes beyond providing just a functional experience at the airport but ensuring a cherished experience as well, making guests feel relaxed, special and valued.

According to Malaysia Airports group chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Shukrie Mohd Salleh, “In Malaysia, a conservative estimate puts 1 in 625 children as affected by autism and worldwide, the numbers of children on the autism spectrum are also on the rise based on a paper published by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) in 2015.

The airport community received training by the Autism Behavioural Centre in February on how to recognise and support individuals with hidden disabilities.

Therefore, we understand that travelling through the airport can be overwhelming, not only for these special guests but their parents or guardians as well.

Hence, with this new facility, we hope to ease the burden of the family during their journey through our airport and create a safe and calm space for these special guests.”

At the airport, The Butterfly Effect is translated to a set of facilities and services catered especially to passengers with hidden disabilities.

Hidden disabilities refer to a whole spectrum of disabilities that are primarily neurological in nature, including autism, dyslexia, sensory processing disorder, ADHD and more.

Located on Level 5 at the KLIA Main terminal, the Calm Room is a safe space and aims to provide comfort and help regulate the emotions of passengers with hidden disabilities.

Passengers will be given a Butterfly Kit, which contains a special identification lanyard so that they can be easily identified by the airport community. They will be given access to special drop-off points at the terminal entrance and priority lanes at the counters as well as accorded flexibility and more time by checkpoint personnel to accommodate their special needs.

Emphasis will also be given to ensuring that these passengers are not separated from their caregivers throughout their journey. They will also have access to a Calm Room and 10 sensory walls located throughout the terminal building.

The Calm Room is a safe space located on Level 5 at the KLIA Main terminal which requires registration and an access code to enter, while the sensory walls are interactive touch panels which provide sensory feedback and stimuli encouraging interactive exploration.

To educate its airport staff on identifying and catering to passengers with hidden disabilities, Malaysia Airports has collaborated with the Autism Behavioral Center (ABC) to teach and train them how to identify these disabilities and teach them how to support individuals with special needs.

ABC was the first in the country to implement international standards of intervention using the Pennsylvania Training and Teaching Assistance Network (PaTTAN) Technology which was developed by Dr. Amiris DiPuglia and Mike Miklos.

Sensory walls are strategically placed across the airport terminal to provide stimuli and encourage interactive exploration.

With this collaboration, training is provided for the airport community, including internal and external stakeholders from government agencies, airlines, and business partners.

Staff are taught to identify passengers with hidden disabilities, to learn and identify signs of autism and its diagnostic criteria, to manage and help families when tantrums and meltdowns occur, and to facilitate special routes and areas relevant to the needs of such individuals.

They are also taught protocols to support families with autism, in matters related to safety, supervision, accommodations and more.

Malaysia Airports hopes to implement The Butterfly Effect initiative at all its airports in the future. It also hopes to work with the relevant agencies to improve and add more facilities around its airports to cater to this special group of passengers.

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