(NEW YORK) — United Airlines announced Thursday that it is the first U.S. airline to add Braille to its aircraft cabin interiors.
The airline has about a dozen planes outfitted with Braille already, and plans to add Braille to its entire mainline fleet of more than 900 planes by 2026. The Braille will help blind and visually impaired people identify row numbers and seat assignments, and will be located in the lavatory as well.
“One of the things you want to do with all your customers is allow them to be as self-sufficient as possible,” said Linda Jojo, United’s executive vice president and chief customer officer. “This is one of the ways that our vision-impaired customers can navigate themselves to the right row in the right seat, without asking for help.”
The addition of Braille is part of the United NEXT plan, which involves purchasing more planes and upgrading the interiors of the existing fleet. The Braille is being added when the planes go in to be retrofitted.
For blind customers, the flying experience can be difficult. Dan Spoone, the interim executive director of the American Council of the Blind, is blind and said the challenges range from locating the call button and the overhead light to dealing with the lavatory.
“By God, those flush buttons are on a different spot in every different model of aircraft,” said Spoone.
Chris Danielsen, the director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, is blind as well, and says when the cabin crew states that passengers must comply with lighted signs, placards and crewmember instructions, he’s unable to see signs or placards and has to only rely on what the crew says.
“It’s an important paradigm shift,” said Danielsen. “The flying experience is so full of visual signs and indicators.”
United has included the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind in its accessibility efforts — not only with Braille, but also exploring the use of other tactile navigation aids in the cabin, and in the development of United’s accessible in-flight entertainment and mobile app that work with screen reader technology.
Jojo said that the airline would welcome input from customers about how the Braille is working for them and that United will incorporate the feedback as the retrofits continue.
“This is an excellent step for United,” said Spoone. “We want to travel and be independent and go where we want to go and visit our families and go on vacations… There’s just a lot of opportunity to improve accessibility through the whole path from the time your Uber drops you off at the airport til you get on the plane and get to your destination.”
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