For those of us not impacted by autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or a similar developmental disability it is almost impossible to imagine the stress a child with any of those conditions would feel when entering an airport.  The closest we might come is taking the stress level we feel and multiplying it a thousand-fold.


Think of it; at an airport there are people everywhere pulling suitcases, there are travelers in lines that snake around huge rooms, there are trays of belts, shoes and jackets, there are suitcases on long conveyor belts, and people off in the distance with their shoes off and hands up. For children who react negatively (to put it mildly) to being touched or to loud, chaotic scenes, it’s downright frightening.


C’mon in. Trust us. The TSA screening device can be intimidating.

Here’s a photo of the TSA screening machine.  Think how that looks to a 3′ 6″ child.  Now think how that might look to a 3′ 6″ child with autism.


The situation often makes air travel for families with a child who has an intellectual or developmental disability  impossible.  It certainly nullifies the concept of full inclusion.  Kids should be able to travel to see grandma or tour the Air and Space Museum in Washingon D.C. or visit any number of places at home and abroad.


The Arc has a solution.  It’s called “Wings for All.” It involves the Airlines, the TSA, Airports, and local parent groups to create a learn-by-doing scenario where the kids and their families visit a real airport and PRACTICE receiving their boarding passes, presenting their ID’s, going through the TSA checkpoint, waiting their turn at the gate and finally boarding the plane and buckling their seatbelts.


The first “Wings for All” event in the South Bay was a huge success.  Held on Saturday, September 30th at San Jose Mineta Airport from 3 to 5 p.m., it was produced by The Arc, The Arc of Alameda County, Southwest Airlines, TSA, and Parents Helping Parents of San Jose.  Some 75 adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their family members participated.  See photos from the day by clicking here.

KCBS Radio (All News 106.9/7400 covered the story.   There were 3 different versions.  Click on the arrow on the left side of each bar to play.


Pat Hornbecker is the mother of Joseph, an adult with developmental disabilities. Pat wasn’t at all sure if Joseph could make it through the TSA screening process.  Following the event, she wrote a piece that appeared in the Arc of California’s Monday Morning Memo.  She gave us permission to put it on our blog.  Read it by clicking:

A Mom’s Perspective


It is a stirring piece, we’re sure you’ll agree.


    For information about Parents Helping Parents in San Jose, click here.    To see the news release, click here.



Thanks to the national office of The Arc for developing Wings for All and making it available nationwide. To visit The Arc of the US website, click here.



Being able to travel by air with their loved one is a dream come true for many families and another reason we are proud to be part of The Arc that does so much to advance the cause of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.