United Airlines has always been one to do good, going by its tagline and by 2026, they aim to have braille in the interiors of their entire fleet.
In recent times, the concept of inclusivity has gained significant attention within the travel industry, particularly in light of the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, a lesser-known fact is that the Department of Transportation recorded approximately 27 million air travelers with disabilities in the year 2019. Within the realm of travel, individuals who face heightened challenges are those with visual impairments. Despite the increasing availability of aids such as ramps and canes, there remains a significant gap in addressing the needs of those who are visually impaired and cannot rely on these tools for assistance.
How can we support individuals with visual impairments in their air travel? United Airlines offers a solution worth highlighting. The airline has ingeniously incorporated braille into its aircraft interiors, fostering an environment of inclusivity for passengers with visual challenges. Notably, United has achieved a pioneering milestone as the first airline ever to introduce braille within the aircraft, a step that empowers countless travelers with visual disabilities to confidently navigate the cabin unassisted.
Linda Jojo, United’s chief customer officer says, "Finding your seat on a plane or getting to the restroom is something most of us take for granted, but for millions of our customers, it can be a challenge to do independently. By adding more tactile signage throughout our interiors, we're making the flying experience more inclusive and accessible, and that's good for everyone." At the moment, United Airlines has equipped about a dozen aircraft with braille markings. These include individual rows and seat numbers as well as markings inside and outside the lavatories. They expect to have their entire mainline fleet equipped with braille by the end of 2026.
Not just this, but United Airlines is also working with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and other disability advocacy groups to brainstorm as well as explore the use of other tactile navigational aids throughout the cabin such as raised letters, numbers and arrows.
NFB President Mark Riccobono says, "We applaud United for taking an important step toward making its aircraft more accessible to blind passengers. The flight experience is often frustrating for a number of reasons, one of which is the amount of information that is available exclusively through printed signs and other visual indicators. We hope to continue working with United to explore additional ways to make flying more accessible and less stressful for blind passengers."
United Airlines believes in backing its words with supporting actions, and definitely follows through on its tagline: "Good Leads The Way." They have been recognized as the Best Place to Work for Disability Inclusion for the eighth consecutive year, and have also earned a top score on the Disability Equality Index benchmarking tool, a joint initiative of the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability. This is to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities.
ACB Interim Executive Director Dan Spoone states, "United is taking additional steps to create an accessible airline passenger experience through braille signage. We appreciate the airline's continued exploration of additional in-flight navigational aids like large print and tactile indicators, and we encourage all airlines to follow United's lead in making air travel more inclusive for the blind and low vision community." The rollout of braille to mainline aircraft over the next few years is the latest way United has worked to create accessible solutions for its customers and employees, and we cannot wait for it to become the new normal.