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Airport, The Arc team up for 'Wings for All' program

Work continues on the geothermal heating and cooling system behind the “In Transit” sculpture by Dennis Patton at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Work continues on the geothermal heating and cooling system behind the “In Transit” sculpture by Dennis Patton at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Travelers with intellectual and developmental disabilities will get a chance to participate in a flying “dress rehearsal” at a special event Saturday.

The Eastern Iowa Airport is collaborating with The Arc of Southeast Iowa, Allegiant Air and the Transporation Security Administration (TSA) to host Wings for All, a national program of The Arc.

The program is designed to help alleviate some of the stress people with disabilities and their families may experience when flying. Participants can practice entering the airport, obtaining a boarding pass, going through security and boarding a plane. The Allegiant Airbus 320 that will be used in the demonstration will not leave the gate, but will give participants about an hour on the plane.

This is the first time the Cedar Rapids airport has hosted the event, but it has been held at airports around the country for years.

“We certainly want to find ways to engage with the community and de-stress the travel experience for folks that might experience more anxiety,” said Eastern Iowa Airport Director of Marketing and Communications Pam Hinman.

She said in the past, families have contacted the airport and set up private meetings with both airport staff and the TSA before traveling.

“This gives an opportunity to more people. And when we meet privately we don’t have access to sit on the plane. This is the whole process,” Hinman said.

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Wings for All also is designed to give airport personnel the opportunity to interact with families in a structured learning environment.

“For parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, everyday tasks can sometimes prove to be far more difficult for their child,” said The Arc CEO Peter Berns in a news release. “Air travel can prove particularly challenging between clearing security, the overwhelming noises, and harsh lights. This program will not only alleviate the stress children and their parents may feel, but help educate airport and airline professionals about how best to serve children with autism or other intellectual and developmental disabilities in the future.”

Participants should begin arriving at the airport at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. They will check-in at the ticket counter, go through a security checkpoint and board the airplane at 3:10 p.m. They then will begin deplaning around 4:15 p.m. A reception for participants will be held afterward in the baggage claim area.

People interested in participating should contact The Arc of Southeast Iowa at (319) 351-5017.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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