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HIA program for young fliers with disabilities gets national attention

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A program at Harrisburg International Airport designed to take some of the stress out of flying for young travelers with disabilities has been spotlighted in a national media report.

ABC News this week looked at international efforts by airports to make children comfortable before flying, including "quiet rooms" for children with neurodevelopmental challenges, including autism.

Among the airports mentioned was HIA, which debuted the Wings for All program last June.

Wings for All gives individuals living with intellectual or developmental disabilities, their families, and aviation professionals the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, passing through security, and boarding a plane. The goal, organizers hope, is to make the process seem less stressful when families fly for real.

It also gives airport, airline and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials and other personnel a learning opportunity to observe and interact with families and their children.

First developed in Massachusetts by a local chapter of The Arc, a nonprofit group people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, Wings for All was brought to Central Pennsylvania in conjunction with The Arc of Pennsylvania, The Arc of Cumberland and Perry Counties, Delta Airlines and the TSA.

One hundred families signed up for the inaugural event last year, which included boarding a Delta MD-88 to walk through pre-flight information.

According to ABC, airport quiet rooms for children and adults on the autism spectrum recently opened in Shannon, Ireland, while airports in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and in Atlanta opened similar facilities last year.

HIA is not the only airport in Pennsylvania to jump on board the Wings for All program. Arc officials say another session is set for May 6 at Lehigh Valley International Airport, in partnership with the airport and Allegiant Air.

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Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @rogerdupuis2.

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