Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport receives award in recognition of innovative disability initiatives

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport received an award from the IDC Government Insight’s sixth annual Smart Citifies North America Awards (SCNAA) in recognition of their initiatives that help the visually and hearing impaired.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport receives an award in recognition of their innovative disability initiatives.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has received an award in recognition of their innovative initiatives that help support people who are visually and hearing impaired. The airport received their award from the IDC Government Insight’s sixth annual Smart Citifies North America Awards (SCNAA) in the category of Digital Equity and Accessibility. 

“I’m so pleased that our airport has been recognised with a Smart Cities Award,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “Travel for people with disabilities can be challenging, and Phoenix Sky Harbor has been committed to ensuring that all travellers have the best possible trip. These new innovations improve accessibility and empower travellers so that they can have a more welcoming and positive experience.”

“This award recognises what we already know…Sky Harbor is committed to ensuring that our all our passengers and customers have a great experience’ said Councilwoman Ann O’Brien. By providing this tool for people who are blind or low vision to navigate independently, our Aviation Department making sure that “America’s Friendliest Airport” is also America’s most accessible airport to anyone who wants to travel.”

The Smart Cities Awards are designed to recognise the progress North American states and municipalities have made in executing Smart City projects, as well as provide a forum for sharing best practices to help accelerate Smart City development in the region. In addition to the winning project, Phoenix was also named a finalist for two additional initiatives: the Phoenix City Manager’s Performance Dashboard and Open Data initiative; and the Planning and Development Department’s ShapePHX permitting and inspection platform.

In 2022, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport launched a service called Aira. It’s a free service available to support those customers who are blind or have low vision. Aira uses a mobile app to assist passengers with a variety of needs, including moving through the airport, finding gates, reading flight information screens, and more. The app connects users with professionally trained visual interpreters who use live-streamed video to translate visual information into descriptive audio. The app is available in the Apple and Google Play stores, and while accessing the service for personal use requires a monthly subscription, America’s Friendliest Airport® has made the service free for all airport users.

“I’m so proud that the Aviation Department has been recognised for its work to help people to travel how they want, and to make that process as easy as possible,” said Councilwoman Debra Stark, chair of the city’s Transportation, Infrastructure and Planning Subcommittee. “We first started discussing Aira after I had a conversation with one of my constituents who uses the service, and it’s great to see what a big difference this technology can make for Sky Harbor’s passengers.”

The airport also has several other unique innovations to help those with disabilities including hearing loops. In 2022, the airport added hearing loops to its new Terminal 4 Eighth Concourse. With the recent expansions, Phoenix Sky Harbor has more than 85,000sqft of hearing loops in Terminal 3 and another 25,000 in Terminal 4. This advanced technology improves accessibility for hearing-aid users by connecting directly to the public address system. It allows people who use hearing aids to more easily hear announcements about flight delays, gate changes and other useful information.

Additionally, Phoenix Sky Harbor offers other services like the Compassion Cacti™ lanyard programme where those travellers who self-identify as needing extra assistance can request a free lanyard to be worn while traveling through the airport. This signifies to airport staff that these individuals may need a little extra time or help when in the airport. The airport also recently introduced a Sensory Room for individuals with autism, dementia or other-sensory related conditions, and Phoenix Sky Harbor has been focused on being a dementia-friendly airport by providing training for staff.

The City of Phoenix Smart Cities mission is data-driven, community-centred, technologically focused, and equitable, including designing and implementing solutions to community challenges and improving city processes for efficient use of time, resources, and energy – enhancing quality of life for all residents. Phoenix is a lead member of The Connective, a regional public-private consortium working to advance Smart Cities solutions across the region.

Projects were submitted earlier this year, and after finalists were announced in March, the public had the opportunity to review the projects and cast their vote. The awards will be presented as the Smart Cities Connect event being held 16-18 May in Denver. Learn more about the awards here.

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