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Accessible Facilities for Autism – Bristol Airport

Accessible Facilities for Autism – Bristol Airport
27 January 2022

The business case for a more accessible travel experience is clear – but how can built environment professionals make public spaces such as airports less stressful for people with autism, dementia or cognitive impairments? 

Professionals working across the built environment are responsible for making buildings accessible for everyone, including where the need for assistance may be more hidden.

Some public spaces can be difficult to navigate as they can be busy and stressful environments for neurodivergent people. Airports are one such building type.


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How Does the Built Environment Affect Neurodivergent People?


Sensory overload is a common experience for neurodivergent adults and children. Jenara Nerenberg, author of Divergent Mind, describes this as a “heightened reaction to external stimuli: experiences, noise, chatter, others’ emotional expression, sound, light, or other environmental changes.”

Preparing and embarking on travel usually involves access to unfamiliar settings which may be noisy, crowded, very bright, cramped or, conversely, very spacious.

The change in routine, as well as unfamiliar noises and sights can all make travelling a difficult experience difficult for people, and a lack of appropriate facilities can prevent many from booking flights from certain airports.



Picture: a photograph of a sensory area designed by Fun & Function at Barre RailRiders Stadium. Image Credit: Fun & Function




Bristol Airport’s Sensory Room


Bristol Airport is one airport widely recognised for its accessible facilities. Facilities provider OCS and Bristol Airport were recognised for excellent accessible facilities following a survey conducted by Altogether Travel.  The survey ranked 17 UK and five international airports on 28 criteria including the information available on site and online, hidden disabilities programmes, accessible parking, services for deaf passengers, and services for passengers with reduced mobility.

The Sensory Room at Bristol Airport is a provision specifically made to help those experiencing sensory overload. It provides a safe, private and interactive space for customers to feel relaxed when in unfamiliar surroundings.

Designed by Fun & Function, the Sensory Room is tailored made to be a soothing and peaceful place away from the activity of a busy airport. It includes facilities such as a colour column, infinity tunnel, padded seats, colour changing LEDs and a wheel projector.



Picture: a photograph of Bristol's sensory room, showing a wheel projector. Image Credit: Bristol Airport 


Reducing Flight Anxiety


Richard Thomasson, Head of Customer Operations, Bristol Airport said: “The new Sensory Room at Bristol Airport will make a huge difference in the lives of those travelling with autism, dementia or cognitive impairment for themselves, their carers and accompanying family.

“An airport can be a busy and stressful environment, therefore having a safe and interactive place for children and adults, will help to reduce anxiety before boarding their flights and is an invaluable asset in reducing stress.

Picture: a photograph of Bristol's sensory room, showing an infinity tunnel and colour changing LEDs. Image Credit: Bristol Airport 

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 27 January 2022


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