The 2014 Winter Paralympic Games will be held in in the Russian city of Sochi, and its airport has undergone renovations to meet the needs of the athletes.
Sochi International airport owners, Basel Aero, recently announced completing the $1 million renovations which introduced permanent accessibility improvements for passengers with reduced mobility and other disabilities.
One of the signature features of recent renovations are mnemonic schemes featuring Braille letters, installed near the entrance and inside the terminal. However, this way finding solution is being discontinued at airports around the globe, replaced with more modern interactive totems featuring assistive technology to support people suffering from hearing loss and visual impairments.
Language and terms used in Basel Aero’s press release is a reminder that the road to inclusion has only just began in Russia. “Physically-challenged passengers can also use a special check-in desk,” the press release says, describing accessible check-in desks.
Sochi also introduced a preferential queue and a dedicated security check point for passengers with disabilities. It is unknown if personnel manning the checkpoint has undergone disability awareness training.
“Special yellow sign navigation, installed throughout the terminal, will help visually-impaired passengers to make their way through the building,” the press release adds, not saying if tactile footpaths are also part of the navigation package for the blind.
“A wheelchair-friendly elevator with Braille letters on the buttons will make it easy to reach the second floor,” Basel Aero announced, as if accessible elevators were a novelty item.
However, a novel feature in airport assistance is the presence of paramedics to help passengers with special needs during check-in, security checks and transfer from the departure lounge to an aircraft. “They can also meet passengers with reduced mobility at the arrival,” Sochi airport said.
“We’ve prepared everything to ensure the best and smoothest service for passengers with special needs. However, Basel Aero is still searching for new approaches and ways to make the accessibility program even more effective. Airport Sochi pledges to give a warmest welcome to Paralympians and their companions,” Leonid Sergeev, Basel Aero CEO, said.
Quite interestingly, the press release did not mention accessible toilets. “We do have accessible toilets on each level of the airport; There are a total of 16 of them: 10 are in the domestic terminal and 6 in the international one,” a spokesperson for Sochi airport told Reduced Mobility Rights on Tuesday.
A trained eye will immediately detect that toilets make wide use of common features, like the towels dispenser positioned at a standard hence non accessible height.
“All the toilets have been tested by the disabled. Necessary changes have been made according to their reviews, and now the toilets fully comply with the IPC requirements.The photo [provided by Sochi airport] distorts this perspective and gives a wrong vision. The towel dispenser is also located at the accessible height,” the Sochi airport spokesperson added.
Finally, we noticed that no information pertaining accessible features and assistance services is available on the airport’s website. “You’re right, the web site does not contain the information about accessibility tools because we’re working to launch a new one in late December. There will be all the necessary information regarding accessibility, preparation to the Olympics and Paralympics and lots of other useful tips for the passengers,” the spokesperson for Sochi airport said.
In little over 90 days almost 1,500 Paralympic athletes will put Sochi International airport accessible features to test. Godspeed.