Improving air transportation and services for people with mobility and cognitive problems

ICARUS stands for Innovative Changes in Air transport Research for Universally designed Services.

ICARUS is an European research project that focuses on improving access to air transportation for disabled people and the elderly. The project will contribute to initiate changes in air transport activities and services. The aim is to allow easier access to services for all citizens, by providing insights on R&D areas that might improve the air transport access issues.

The current trend towards “universal design” does not only provide access to disabled people but simultaneously improves quality of service for all users. Designing infrastructures, services and information and communication technologies (ICT) to be usable by everyone, enhances equality to any European citizen regardless his functional capabilities.

Citizens of the European Union have the right to move freely within the member states, and people with disabilities have the right to fully participate in all aspects of life. These sound great in theory, but in practice, it is difficult for people with physical and cognitive disabilities to use transportation and to travel as freely as they would like. The ICARUS project hopes to change that.

The general objective of ICARUS is to identify, characterize, justify, and prioritize research and analysis approaches in those solution areas with the greatest potential towards improving access to air transportation for disabled and elderly people. The project aims to make it easier for people to travel, from booking your tickets to the airport’s physical environment to arriving safely at your destination. For more information, please visit the project website:

icarus logo

Freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is a right preserved under EU treaties: “Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in the Treaties and by the measures adopted to give them effect” Art. 45 of The Lisbon Treaty (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU).

This right is strongly enforced in the case of disabled people through the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 2006), Section 9, which refers to their right of access, states: “…to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life” (all the EU Member States and the Community have signed the Convention).

However, these basic rights are not fully realized in the accessibility to air transport for disabled people and the elderly, thus having a major impact on the lives and life choices of many citizens with reduced mobility. A lack of accessible means of independent travel creates social exclusion for many people. By 2030, it is estimated that 35% of the European population will be either disabled or over age 65.

Observed barriers to travel

The research group observed 12 travelers in real-life conditions and noticed 240 barriers They summarized three main effects of all of the barriers:

  1. The assistance services for people with disabilities or reduced mobility (including elderly people) are seen as essential by these passengers, as they enable them to travel in the same conditions as the rest of passengers. Without these services or with inadequate care on the part of the staff that interact with the passengers (airport, airline, or security staff), passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility are hindered in their right to travel and could have serious damage during travel. For this reason, it is necessary to adjust these services and ensure that all the staff that is in some way related to passengers receive adequate, high-quality training to perform the tasks assigned to them. Achieving an assistance service adjusted to the passenger’s capabilities, needs, and preferences, and guaranteeing their personal dignity in all travel stages are two of the challenges faced by current air travel.
  2. It is also highlighted the need to review in-flight security protocols and procedures, which have significant limitations on the way in which people with disabilities and reduced mobilities can use air travel.
  3. Finally, even though it is one of the least-known aspects of accessibility, the of the signage inside the airport terminals continues to be another clearly improvable aspect of air transport, not only for passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility, but for all passengers.

In addition, a conclusion drawn from the conversations with users during the final interviews was the importance of improving the protocols to request and offer assistance services in airports and airlines, as well as the urgent need to approach the change of the design of airplane cabins to allow wheelchair users to travel in their own chairs (as already happens in other transport means), thereby making it possible to travel comfortably and with adequate services for people with disabilities or reduced mobility.

The main problems (29% of all problems observed) were during what they defined as “Processes and Protocols,” including the processes related to the various internal procedures that the assistive service provides and how passengers can interact with assistance services. This includes procedures for the provision of services by airlines, airport staff, and assistance service providers, both for face-to-face assistance processes and for distance assistance processes (use of website, mobile web, and telephone resources). The researchers also found location barriers (where am I now and where do I go next) to account for 22% of the observed difficulties (due to signs with small print, not enough signs, etc.).

ICARUS has written a summary report of their findings, where they state

All user profiles that have requested assistance services have referred to some kind of problem with this service and indicated that the possible causes of it are lack of training and awareness as well as the existence of inadequate protocols and procedures. These inefficient protocols are not suited to the needs of each person, nonetheless they are grouped and classified as “standard”. Some airlines require to phone special numbers and they are not always available as well as being expensive. The airlines‟/airports‟ contact line should be inexpensive or free, in order to put all consumers/travellers in an equitable position when using it and not act as an additional barrier.

Moreover, there is a severe lack of training and awareness by industry and professionals regarding legislation. Accessibility is jeopardized from the beginning. When an infrastructural project is designed badly in terms of accessibility, the whole chain suffers. From professionals who design airports and venues, to professionals handling the assistance services there should be information and training campaigns for professionals.

Improving Digital Public Services for all

A related project is APSIS4all (Accessible Personalized Services in Public Digital Terminals for All). It is another European project that aims to make information and transportation easier for all individuals, and concluded in 2014.

APSIS4all is a project aimed at personalizing Public Digital Teminals for all. It also overcomes the existing accessibility barriers faced by people unfamiliar with technology, people with disabilities, and older people when interacting with Public Digital Terminals, such as ATMs and Ticket Vending Machines.

APSIS4all not only focuses on overcoming such barriers, but also on improving the experience for all users, by enabling Public Digital Terminals to adapt their interfaces automatically, according to their needs and preferences, and by opening up a new variety of interaction modes through the use of the users’ own mobile devices, such as smartphones.

To interact with the machines in this new way, you just have to enter in your needs and preferences, and you will receive a contactless card.

Once you touch the machine with the card, the interface will automatically change and the information will be displayed in the way you want. Moreover, you can even set your favorites and use them as a shortcut in the machines.

How it works:

APSIS4all is implementing two different approaches. The first one is to provide users with a card that stores their needs and preferences. Once they get to a terminal, it changes the settings to suit user preferences. That way, public terminals adapt to you and not the other way around. They will be able to change the text size, background colors, include voice output options, add help content or simplify the interaction, among other features. The second approach shifts the public terminal operation to the Internet, so that you can preset the trip tickets you will purchase in a Ticket Vending Maching or the money you want to take out from an ATM from your laptop or smartphone. The system will send you a reference code that you only have to show to the machine to get your money out or print your tickets.

APSIS4all currently has two pilots deployed in real environments:

  •  “Spanish Pilot” In Spain, you can personalise more than 1000 “la Caixa” Punt Groc Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) located in the cities of Madrid and Barcelona (banking sector)
  •  “German Pilot” In Germany, you can personalise 24 PaderSprinter Ticket Vending Machines (TVMs) scattered around the city of Paderborn (transport sector)


6 thoughts on “Improving air transportation and services for people with mobility and cognitive problems

  1. Pingback: Safety tips for traveling along | Doctor Dementia and the Dementia Adventure

  2. Since my reading comprehension has dropped from university level to 4th grade (with my dementia) did not understand most of this posting, but timing is perfect for me. Scheduled to speak at ADI conference in Australia next month. Phone call with airline yesterday and received form doctor needs to fill out regarding my ability to fly. … and yet when I asked if qualified for “Safety Assistant” I was told no. It seems like there should be some middle ground here!!! They need to realize I could not fly without assistance; cannot understand and follow directions, especially if there was an emergency. Also, extra stress emphasizes almost ALL physical symptoms from arthritis to runny nose, so in emergency must expect increase of hallucinations, etc. Safety Assistant, especially with dementia other than Alzheimers (which often includes hallucinations even in early stages, like mine) is imperative, but with assistant, patient could probably travel safely (and without added problems for other passengers) for an extended time into the disease.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences, truthfulkindness. It’s unfortunate that you don’t qualify for a Safety Assistant, I might do a bit of digging to see what the qualifications are, as this information would help others as well. I wish I could travel with you!! Both as the assistant and because the ADI conference would be great to attend. Will you be mentioning issues like this in your talk?
      I will plan to take some time to go through the post again and see if I can make it easier to understand the research and work being done in this area – it’s great that you brought that to my attention!

      Liked by 1 person

      • subject of my talk has changed; was volunteerism & now notified part of workshop on “Dementia Friendly Communities”. So thought I would focus on “Value of PWD Lived Experience as Contribution toward Dementia Friendly Communities”. Only 10minutes so I had thought to quickly touch on contribution toward fellow PWD relations, coach, professional & policy-makers, especially in the area of communication techniques (which is a favorite subject of mine) 😀 — Full legal name= Truthful Loving Kindness


Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s