Hidden Disabilities: Travel Assistance Program
Published: May 30, 2024

Hidden Disabilities – Travel Assistance Program

by S. Stothers

Over the last year, a friend has been asking me to go to Vancouver Island to help work on one of his car builds. Something I have done in the past, and always had a great time doing! During this past year, events and obligations always seemed to be in the way, in addition to having my “new” Parkinson’s travelling companion. 

So, after analyzing what could go wrong (I have not flown in over a decade, and air travel has changed), the honest reality was probably nothing. 

I called a travel agent to help plan a flight to BC (Bring Cash) and return for a week. In arranging for extra legroom (economy comfort) and aisle seat, I mentioned to her I had Parkinson’s. The only concern was flying for 4 hours from Winnipeg to Vancouver; would I freeze up in the seat requiring assistance to get moving? The connecting flight to Nanaimo is about 20 minutes, weather-dependent, and I didn’t think that would be an issue.

The travel agent suggested the availability of a new program called Hidden Disabilities, which is available at other Canadian airports and internationally! The identifier for this program is sunflowers on a green background lanyard with a plastic card featuring a sunflower and personal identification on the back. The identification is kept simple. They ask for your first name, family or guardian contact, family or guardian number, and any special needs. These lanyards are supplied at the airport.

On the day of my flight, the Air Canada ticket agent found a Hidden Disabilities lanyard for my use. Air Canada has space on their check-in to input assistance needs besides a wheelchair request, which she did. Also, my boarding tickets were reprinted for first call for boarding for both flights. Two of the stewardesses introduced themselves to me upon boarding the plane and said to let them know if I needed any assistance.

I felt quite good all the way to just past Calgary. Then my left foot cramped and started a mini-tremor cycle that was noticeable. I pressed the call button, and a stewardess brought a cup of water to swallow half a pill to settle the tremor. The tremors left within 5 to 10 minutes, and I was asked if I was okay or needed help off the plane. I thought not, but would let them know.

The plane reached Vancouver, and I got off the plane unassisted, letting them know I was okay. But as I came to the Gate exit, one of the Air Canada agents spotted me and asked if I needed a wheelchair or any other assistance. Since time was short, I asked where the gate for the connecting flight was.  She grabbed another agent to walk me down to it. So, within a short walk, I was introduced to the next gate agent who was starting the boarding of the Nanaimo flight. Getting on the turboprop for this short trip, the head steward introduced himself. He also offered any assistance if needed.

The trip home was perfect, and while walking to the luggage pick-up, a Winnipeg airport staff member noticed the lanyard and asked if I needed any further assistance.

More Information from a Recent CAA Article: 

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is a new global initiative taking travel accessibility in the right direction. The lanyard is available for anyone with a neurological, cognitive, and neurodevelopmental disability, as well as physical, visual, auditory and sensory difficulties.

The lanyards are free and accessible at 200+ airports worldwide! 

Proper transportation accessibility was introduced and enforces in 2021 with the new Canadian Transportation Agency regulations. These regulations include:

  • Transportation service providers are obligated to treat persons with disabilities with dignity.
  • Delays should be avoided for persons with disabilities during securing screening.
  • Transportation services providers should make “every reasonable effort” to accommodate persons with disabilities in proceeding through certain parts of their transportation experience.

Final Rating: Highly recommend!

The lanyards are readily available for free at the Winnipeg General Information Desk on the main floor Arrivals area.

For further information on the program and supporting partners: