Video: How travel industry employees can help blind travelers

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and The Seeing Eye (TSE), two of the largest guide dog organizations have teamed up with United Airlines and Alaska Airlines to create a video to help airport employees improve the way they interact with blind and visually impaired travelers. While the video focus on travelers with guide dogs, there is a lot of great information about the basics of helpful interaction with visually impaired travelers. 

Takeaways

Changing a few things about the way employees interact with visually impaired travelers can drastically improve the experience of the traveler, some of these might seem obvious but others may not.  

Always ask if you can help the blind traveler. Some travelers will need additional help getting to specific locations in the airport, while others are seasoned travelers and know just where they are going. Don’t ever take it on yourself to grab a blind person and lead them to where they are going. Offering to lead the traveler to their destination is always a good thing to do.  

Do not interact with guide dogs. They are adorable, and many look like they really want to interact with you (because they do.) but resist the temptation to talk to or interact with the guide in any way. When you distract the guide, they become excited and it can be difficult for them to regain focus and get back to working for their handler. 

Point out where the dog relieving areas are. Most handlers relieve their dogs just before getting on the plane, knowing where the closest relieving area is can be a big help. 

Always ask of the visually impaired traveler needs assistance using the check in kiosks, they can be confusing.  

Remember that the blind or visually impaired traveler cannot see the plastic separator at the desk, so directing them to where they can hand you their credentials and ID is important.

The blind traveler can’t see when you are handing them things. When you hand back the traveler’s ID and boarding pass make sure to say something rather than just trying to hand it to them. Saying something like here is your ID and boarding pass, or I’m going to hand you your ID and boarding pass. is a genuine help. This one point is one of the toughest to get your head around when you are assisting blind and visually impaired customers. 

Remember the traveler cannot see where you are pointing. If you are giving directions to a visually impaired traveler, pointing and saying its over there is of little help, and most cannot see where you are pointing. Proper directions like it is  about 300 feet ahead the way you are facing and it will be on your left is much more useful. Forgetting and pointing will likely make you the butt of a story when the traveler reaches their destination. 

Don’t yell. Blind and visually impaired travelers can’t see, but most can hear just fine. 

There you go, some basics and a good study guide. I have been told by airport employees that blind and visually impaired travelers are not very common unless they are located near a guide dog campus. This can all be difficult to remember and most importantly it be patient and friendly. A visually impaired traveler may be even more stressed about the trips than your normal passenger. From experience, I can tell you that traveling with a guide dog is like traveling with a child. The handler needs to ensure they are relieved before going on the plane, they need to make sure they have packed everything they need for te trip as well as what their guide needs – it can be extra stressful.  

Here is the amazing video from GDB and TSE, this should be a big help for employees who will be interacting with customers who are visually impaired. 

Video

 

From GDB and TSE:

The video includes best practices and tips for helping travelers who are blind or visually impaired, including:

– How to provide superior service while interacting with them and their guide dogs
– How to assist them in navigating the airport, while social distancing
– How to help guide dog teams navigate TSA screening
– How to provide guidance for boarding and exiting a plane
– How to provide physical assistance that doesn’t violate social distancing guidelines

“Since the air travel industry already had so much to contend with during the pandemic, we wanted to share our expertise in a way that would help provide a safe and positive travel experience during and after the pandemic — not only for travelers who are blind but also for the airline and airport employees who serve them,” said Christine Benninger, president and CEO for Guide Dogs for the Blind. “This video is another example of how we have pivoted as an organization during the pandemic to better serve the blindness community.”

“This collaboration across industries is an important step in ensuring continued accessibility for travelers who are blind and visually impaired,” said Glenn Hoagland, president and CEO of The Seeing Eye. “As the response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, we expect this educational video will be a lasting way to help facilitate the comfort and safety of both travelers and the professionals who work with them.”

In creating the video, GDB and TSE enlisted input and participation from guide dog users, as well as from employees at Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, the Port of Oakland, the Port of Newark, and the TSA teams at Oakland International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport. Alaska and United plan to begin sharing the video with their employees this summer.

“We are committed to providing the best service to our guests and appreciate the opportunity to work with Guide Dogs for the Blind and The Seeing Eye on this important video,” said Wayne Newton, vice president of airport operations and customer service, Alaska Airlines. “This video will be used to train our employees and ensure we are continuing the support of our guests who are blind and visually impaired in the best ways possible.”

“United strives to create an inclusive and accessible environment for our customers, employees and all those we proudly serve,” said Jessica Kimbrough, the airline’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer. “The pandemic has reshaped travel in many ways and working alongside organizations like Guide Dogs for the Blind and The Seeing Eye helps ensure our customers will continue to have a safe and enjoyable experience.”

About Guide Dogs for the Blind

Headquartered in San Rafael, Calif., Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) is the largest guide dog school in North America. It is a passionate community that prepares highly qualified guide dogs to empower individuals who are blind or visually impaired to move through the world more safely and confidently. More than 15,000 guide teams have graduated from GDB since it was founded in 1942. GDB not only improves mobility for its clients, but it also furthers inclusion and advocates for policy reforms that change how the world views blindness. All of GDB’s services are provided free of charge, and it receives no government funding. The organization was the subject of an award-winning 2018 documentary feature called Pick of the Litter, which was developed into a television docu-series by the same name that debuted in 2019 on Disney+. For more information, visit guidedogs.com, or call 800.295.4050.

About The Seeing Eye

Established in 1929, The Seeing Eye provides specially bred and trained dogs to guide people who are blind. Seeing Eye dog users experience greatly enhanced mobility and independence, allowing them to retain their active lifestyles despite blindness. The Seeing Eye is a 501(c)3 non-profit supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, bequests, and other planned gifts. The Seeing Eye is a trademarked name and can only be used to describe the dogs bred and trained at the school’s facilities in Morristown, N.J. If you would like more information on The Seeing Eye, please visit the website at www.SeeingEye.org, call 973.539.4425, or email info@seeingeye.org.

About Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines and its regional partners serve more than 120 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica, providing essential air service for our guests along with moving crucial cargo shipments, such as food, medicine, mail, and e-commerce deliveries. With hubs in Seattle; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Portland, Oregon; and Anchorage, the airline is known for low fares, award-winning customer service and sustainability efforts. With Alaska and its Global Partners, guests can earn and redeem miles on flights to more than 800 destinations worldwide. Learn about Alaska’s award-winning service at newsroom.alaskaair.com and blog.alaskaair.com. Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air are subsidiaries of Alaska Air Group (NYSE: ALK).

About United Airlines

United’s shared purpose is “Connecting People. Uniting the World.” For more information, visit united.com, follow @United on Twitter and Instagram or connect on Facebook. The common stock of UAL is traded on the Nasdaq under the symbol “UAL”.

Contacts

Barbara Zamost, GDB
barbara@zamostpr.com
(415) 389-0210

Michelle Barlak, TSE
mbarlak@seeingeye.org
(585) 329-4317

Conclusion

Did you learn anything? Changing the way you interact with visually impaired customers can make things less stressful for the traveler and make you look like a superstar at the same time. If you have questions about this or any other article here, feel free to drop me a message, I love to hear from my readers. 

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