Paving the way for universally accessible travel

The chair for the Heathrow Access Advisory Group (HAAG), Roberto Castiglioni, was generous enough to take the time out of his extremely busy schedule to have a conversation with Polar Insight. We spoke about his work, the use of inclusive design and the importance of service users.

First of all, would you like to introduce yourself and your organisation?

The Heathrow Access Advisory Group is one of the many activities I am involved with. Since 2012, I have been member of the access to air travel advisory panel of the UK Civil Aviation Authority and also member of the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group. In 2013, I published research on airport accessibility that was later republished by the European Commission. I have been liaising with the Directorate-General of Mobility and transport (DG MOVE) and with National Enforcement Bodies (NEBs) across Europe since late 2012. In 2015 I became chair of the Ageing Population and PRM track at Passenger Terminal Conference. In between I have been working as accessibility consultant for a large number of airports and selected airlines across the world.
In September 2017 I was appointed Chair of the HAAG.

What would you say are the main objectives of HAAG?

The Heathrow Access Advisory Group (‘HAAG’) has been established by Heathrow Airport Limited (‘HAL’) to help it deliver its vision to make Heathrow the leading airport in the world regarding accessibility and inclusion by bringing a consumer perspective into HAL’s decision-making and planning processes.

The objective of HAAG is to provide independent advice and constructive and considered challenge to HAL in relation to: whether and how the interests of special categories of passengers (SCPs) with the exclusion of deportees, inadmissible passengers, or prisoners in custody) are considered in fulfilling relevant regulatory duties and other functions; monitoring the service output performance of the passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) service provider and other stakeholders involved in frontline interaction with passengers with special needs and the ageing population; reviewing and providing independent advice about improvements to the passenger experience; and cooperating with HAL in shaping future passenger experiences. 

How would you describe inclusive design?

An inclusive airport involves an infrastructure for everyone to use. Inclusive design takes into account the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes. Its scope of applicability is endless. For example, curb cuts at sidewalks, initially designed to facilitate people in wheelchairs, are now also used by people with strollers or rolling luggage. Curb cuts have added functionality for a much wider audience than its original recipient.

Can you tell us about the importance of involving service users in your organisation? Why is this important in the airline industry?

Assumptions often lead to expensive mistakes. Thanks to service user involvement, each new solution is designed around the real need of individuals with a wide range of impairments, hence they will be fit for purpose.

On-time performance is the Holy Grail of the Aviation Industry. An inclusive infrastructure expedites processes and passengers flow, hence improving on-time performance.

What would you say are the most common challenges experienced by those with access needs whilst travelling?

Access to accurate information ahead of the journey is by far the number one hurdle persons with disabilities experience when they prepare to travel by air. For example, persons travelling with their personal mobility devices are often faced with conflicting information on whether their wheelchair can be transported or not. This is not only the fault of airlines, but first and foremost due to the fact wheelchair manufactures do not build devices with “airworthiness” standards in mind.

Making sure individual requirements are known to the airlines and airports can also be a bit of a challenge. The way systems are designed gives very little room for bespoke information to be shared across stakeholders.

Which accessibility projects have you found most inspiring? Who is doing excellent work in this area?

I don’t think there is a particular project that stands out at this time. In my view, we are still working in a non-organic fashion. Sometimes more parties are working on parts of a common project without necessarily interacting. We are changing this at Heathrow. The recently created Accessibility Coordination Group ensures all departments are aligned and work in synergy.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of changing the way we view accessibility in transport?

Accessibility is, primarily, a cultural issue. Accepting that there is no such thing as a disabled person, but rather a person confronted by a disabling environment is the first step into a journey that sees everyone, without distinctions, integral part of the human landscape. We need to promote and pursue cultural change to bring accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of thinking.

If you’d like to find out more about HAAG, please follow this link.