Friday, October 15, 2010

Wheelchair users given designated lane for security check-in at Southwest Florida International Airport

From The News-Press in Ft. Myers, Fla.:

Disabled passengers will now have an easier time negotiating Southwest Florida International Airport’s three security gate check-ins.

The airport recently created a special assistance lane for wheelchair users at its concourses. The change was prompted after a complaint was lodged with the Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Board of Southwest Florida.

The lanes, which are marked with a blue wheelchair logo, mean people with disabilities will no longer have to go through a serpentine line to have their flight and identification documents checked.

The new lane gives wheelchair users a direct line to the Transportation Security Administration document checkers.

“Before these changes, you had to crisscross back and forth, and it put wheelchairs on a slant,” said Kevin Berry, director of the local ADA board, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. “That’s not acceptable. When you’re in a wheelchair, you have a higher center of gravity and you can tip over.”

The airport agreed to create the lane after meeting with Berry last month. Airport spokeswoman Victoria Moreland said the change didn’t cost any money because it was a matter of rearranging rope and cones.

She said the airport’s terminal, which opened five years ago, didn’t make the changes earlier because no passenger had brought up the issue.

“We address every concern people bring to us, especially like this. We have a lot of senior citizens that go through this airport and it’s a big part of our demographic,” Moreland said.

Almost 91,000 Lee residents have a disability, according to state records.

“I think this is very nice,” Sharon Kolls, 60, of Milan, Ill., said as her husband pushed her wheelchair down the special lane Thursday. “It’s a straight shot. We don’t have to go through all those zigzags.”

Berry was ecstatic the airport moved so quickly on creating the lane, but he’d like to see the airport move one step further.

Although it’s not required by ADA, the local ADA board would like the airport to build handrails at each of its security check-ins. The handrails would include a higher rail for older passengers or people with canes and a lower rail for people in wheelchairs, Berry said.

“That’s a heck of a slope coming up to the main level,” Berry said. “I’m in a wheelchair, and I know I can’t get up that slope without my wife pushing me.”

Moreland said wheelchair users can call for help on any of the airport’s 37 white courtesy phones. She said the airport is evaluating the handrails, but it’s too early to say how much they would cost.

“An enhancement like that, if it were to proceed, would require board approval and could take anywhere from eight to 12 months because there’s so many things that need to happen,” Moreland said.

The airport is in charge of the check-in queue, but the closer it gets to that point, it becomes federal jurisdiction. The airport would likely need input from the Department of Homeland Security, Moreland said.