The National Academies

ACRP 07-22 [Pending]

Improving Accessibility and Airport Experience for Neurodivergent Individuals and Individuals with Dementia-Related Conditions

  Project Data
Funds: $650,000
Contract Time: 24 months
Staff Responsibility: Joseph D. Navarrete


The traditional design and operation of terminals may not be sufficient to accommodate neurodivergent individuals and individuals with dementia-related conditions. Neurodivergence is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of diagnoses related to the ways the brain processes information. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of travelers with memory-related conditions. Given the complexity, inherent stress, and challenges of air travel, research is needed to provide guidelines and resources to help airport operators design and operate their facilities to enhance the travel experience of people with neurodivergent disorders and provide relevant training for staff.


The objective of this research is to develop a guide to help airport industry practitioners meet the needs of neurodivergent individuals. The guide should be customizable and scalable for commercial service and general aviation airports of varying sizes, resource availability, and governance models. It should provide at a minimum:

  • Primer describing:
    • Understanding of neurodivergence and how it can affect an individual’s airport experience;
    • Current practices and gaps in knowledge in meeting the needs of neurodivergent populations in an airport setting; and
    • Evolution of relevant policies and regulations.
  • Fact sheets describing options that could be implemented in an airport setting. The options should include at a minimum:
    • Spatial improvements (e.g., renovations, new construction),
    • Fitting out the space (e.g., acoustics, lighting, furniture, and finishes),
    • Wayfinding and informational signage,
    • Amenities, services, and resources (e.g., assistive devices), and
    • External and internal communications and training materials.

For each option, the fact sheet should provide:

    • Summary description,
    • Neurodivergent subgroups who could benefit,
    • Enabling actions,
    • Schematic diagrams for spatial-based solutions, and
    • Order-of-magnitude resource requirements (e.g., cost, staffing).
  • Strategies, resources, metrics, and tools (e.g., decision trees, flow charts, checklists, survey templates) to help airports:
    • Identify local stakeholders and neurodivergent communities and include them in the decision-making process;
    • Identify challenges of neurodivergent communities, their caregivers, and/or service animals at their facility under typical and atypical (e.g., irregular operations) conditions;
    • Evaluate, select, and implement the options most appropriate for the airport’s unique circumstances;
    • Incorporate neurodiversity considerations into all aspects of airport decision making (e.g., by updating airport policies);
    • Ensure stakeholder compliance (e.g., use of contracting for enforcement);
    • Identify traditional and alternative funding sources; and
    • Communicate with neurodivergent populations regarding available airport resources.
  • Resources (e.g., talking points, templates, sample scripts, and storyboards) to help airport develop training materials for staff to improve understanding of neurodivergent individuals and their needs, use of inclusive language, promoting sensitive, respectful interactions, and overview of relevant regulations.
  • Templates to help airport develop materials for the public (e.g., social stories) to prepare for their airport experience.
  • Representative case study examples summarizing the use of relevant options to meet the needs of neurodivergent individuals.


The research plan shall include the following interim deliverables for ACRP review and approval at a minimum:

  • Literature review;
  • Draft primer;
  • Data collection plan, including methods for obtaining input from individuals with lived experience;
  • Interim report to include:
    • Research results and analysis to date;
    • Annotated outline of the guide;
    • Initial list of options to be developed into fact sheets and sample template;
    • List and description of recommended strategies, resources, metrics, and tools;
    • Outline of recommended training resources;
    • Sample template for public materials;
    • List of recommended representative case studies with rationale;
    • Next steps; and
    • Identification of follow-on research ideas to be developed into ACRP problem statements.

The research plan shall include the following checkpoints with the ACRP panel at a minimum:

  • Kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the Notice to Proceed;
  • Web meeting to discuss literature review and primer;
  • Web meeting to discuss and approve data collection plan; and
  • In-person interim deliverable review meeting.

The final deliverables shall include:

  • Guide;
  • Contractor’s Final Report documenting all research steps, results, and analysis;
  • Summary of Key Findings;
  • Further Recommended Research Memo; and
  • Technical memo titled, “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.


STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP. The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.

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