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GDB and TSE Collaborate to Help Airlines and Airports Assist Travelers Who Are Visually Impaired

Thursday May 20, 2021

A combo image showing two photographs of people walking through an airport with their guide dogs.

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) and Seeing Eye (TSE) of Morristown, N.J., two of North America’s leading guide dog schools, have joined forces to create a training video to help airline and airport employees better assist travelers who are visually impaired, with a special focus on how to address the social distancing guidelines during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has been especially isolating for people who are blind or visually impaired, largely because the rules and aids for socially distancing have been communicated through directional arrows, signage, or taped-off measurements that guide dogs don’t understand or white canes can’t feel. This has made air travel exponentially harder for those who are blind or visually impaired, so GDB and TSE stepped in to help improve the travel experience by creating an instructional video for airlines and airports to train their employees.

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 guide dog teams
  • How to assist travelers 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, at 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.”

Download the transcript to this video here.

Categories: Access & Etiquette, Advocacy, Travel