ADEC’s ‘Wings for All’ takes the scare out of the air for children with disabilities

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From long security lines to strange machines that bounce electromagnetic waves off your body, air travel can be a chaotic and confusing experience.

The process of clearing security and boarding a flight can cause anxiety for any family. But for families of children with disabilities, it can almost certainly trigger a meltdown.

That’s why ADEC is once again partnering with South Bend International Airport and The Arc of the Untied States to give families a chance at a “dress rehearsal” for flight.

On Saturday, April 29, families are invited to Wings for All at the South Bend airport. Wings is a chance for children with autism or other intellectual or developmental disabilities to earn their wings by trying out the various airport procedures associated with flying.

During the free event, set for 1 p.m., families will check in, clear security, board an airplane, fasten their seatbelts and prepare for takeoff. All airport personnel, Transportation Security Administration staff and airline employees will carry out their regular duties to show children and family members what to expect during a typical domestic flight.

“This is just one way that ADEC is able to walk side-by-side with families to help them navigate life with special needs,” said Michelle McGuin, vice president of family and employment services. “We understand that new situations, like flying, can be stressful to children with disabilities. We want to take the scare out of the air for these families.”

Rob Schultz, of Elkhart, attended the Wings event last year with his son, Krystofer Byrkett. Although Rob and his wife, Angie Schultz, have traveled to places like Kenya and Israel for mission trips, they have always traveled separately so someone could stay at home with Krystofer.

Rob and Angie have never tried to fly with Krystofer, but Rob said he would feel more comfortable trying after running through the experience with ADEC last year. The family is hopeful that they can all travel together for a mission trip someday thanks to Wings for All.

“It was really informative and now Krys has some idea in his head about what it would be like,” Rob said.

Krystofer saw many of his friends from ADEC’s summer camp and After-School Club at Wings last year, so now he may associate flying with the happy memories rather than the stressful unknowns.

“This gives you a trial run, which you don’t get too often in life,” Rob said. “Everybody was wonderful, super nice and friendly.”

Wings for All was founded in 2011 by the Charles River Center chapter of The Arc, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities. The program, managed by The Arc, has since been replicated in major metropolitan cities around the country. South Bend International Airport was the first in Indiana to host a Wings program.

ADEC is grateful for the continued partnership of the South Bend International Airport and for support from Hope Incorporated.

For security reasons, all families are required to register by April 22 by completing the online form found at adecinc.com. Up to two family members or support staff can accompany each individual with a disability.

Participants will begin boarding the aircraft at 1 p.m., but families are asked to arrive at the airport by 12 p.m. to allow ample time for check-in and security. Participants 18 years and older are required to bring a valid form of government-issued ID.

For more information, contact Jessica Koscher at koscherj@adecinc.com or 574-848-2421 or Michelle McGuin at mcguinm@adecinc.com .

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