By a stroke of luck and delight when I boarded the KLM plane from Humberside to Amsterdam, I ran into my old teacher of the deaf and his deaf wife who taught me sign language 10 years ago. It really was a small world as we conversed fully in sign language much to the interest of the other passengers on board. One of the subjects we talked about, in light of my #24SchipholKLM campaign, was deaf awareness in Airports and Flights themselves. I wanted the wife’s perspective as she was more deaf than me and reliant on sign language whereas I was an oral deaf person who may face the same issues. And she did give me a lot to think about in terms of deaf awareness that I added to my checklist below.
Oh! The checklist! I should tell you what’s the purpose of this post. One of the issues facing Airports today is all about accessibility for disabled people and I’m jumping aboard that bandwagon to fly the flag for deaf people specifically in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). Tying it to my #24SchipholKLM Social Media Campaign, I definitely wanted to check within 24 hours that the Airport can meet all the needs of any kind of deaf people a like. So I came armed with a checklist and hoped KLM and Schiphol Airport would prove to be deaf-friendly.
1. Information Service About the Airport whilst Taxi-ing on the Runway
After a very pleasant flight where I was looked after very carefully by the KLM Staff, we landed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Suddenly, the tannoy crackled to life and all I heard was the pilot’s voice ring through the cabin. That was it. I couldn’t make out what he was saying apart from a couple of snatched words here and there. He could be saying that there had been a gate change, important announcements or perhaps even that I’ve won the KLM Lottery and I’d be none the wiser! Turning around to my fellow deaf friend, she had the same bewildered look as I had and we relied on her husband to relay the information.
SOLUTION: Perhaps a print-out could be given to the passenger to relay important announcements about the Airport?
2. Greeting by Airport Staff
While I came off the flight, I was amused to find a sign hovering over the heads of the arriving passengers. The sign had my name emblazoned across it and carried by a member of the Schiphol Airport Staff. She introduced herself, a very pleasant woman I have to say, and asked me if I needed to pick up any bags. Walking with me to the gate, she made it clear where I had to go for my next flight and gave the necessary instructions what to look out for (e.g. signage, information desks etc) if I needed any help. She also walked with me across the Airport to point out the best attractions and activities for me to do while I waited over the next 24 hours. I felt she was clear, concise and very deaf aware in how she spoke to me. Big tick! It got me thinking about sign-language users. As there’s a variety of languages within sign languages, it would be highly unlikely for an airport staff member to learn them all…
SOLUTION: Perhaps for sign language users, create a personalised information sheet for them to use whilst in the airport?
3. Flight Information
Absolutely no issue here. There were plenty of flight information screens everywhere showing up to date information.
4. Information Desks
This is where I felt Schiphol Airport failed on the Deaf Awareness Stakes! I had to visit one of the information desks to sort out a technical issue with my Wi-Fi. It was clear from the onset there was a language barrier as she couldn’t understand what I was saying. It was probably my fault for not learning the Dutch language extensively. However, as soon she realised that I had a Wi-Fi problem, she rang up technical support to speak to them in front of me in her own language. Then she immediately passed me the phone to talk to them. I did point to my hearing aid to convey that I wouldn’t be able to hear properly in a loud environment that was going around us. However, it couldn’t be sent across and I was left with the choice of talking on the phone or putting the phone down. I went with the former and struggled for ages before having to give up. Therefore, I stayed away from the information desks as I felt I couldn’t trust them to understand me correctly. In the end, I managed to sort my Wi-Fi out myself.
SOLUTION: Perhaps some form of International Deaf Awareness Training can be given to the Airport Information Staff?
5. Food and Drink
I didn’t feel I had any problem there whatsoever. I simply pointed at the menu option whilst showing it to them and I would see the price flicker up on the till. There are plenty of self-service restaurants you can take advantage of.
6. Airport Lounges
To my surprise, I stumbled across an Airport Lounge geared specifically for deaf people! I was absolutely impressed! With a loop system set in place, I could tune into the announcements that would ring through clearly rather than the echoey normal one. Also, if you have requested that you are a deaf person during your flight booking, you have the option to be taken to the lounge to wait for your next flight and also be picked up by a member of the airport staff to take you to your correct destination. Fantastic!
7. KLM Business Crown Lounge
Mostly the Lounge is self-service where you could help yourselves to a nice spread buffet, wine, drinks and plenty more. However, you may think there’s nothing to report on about deaf awareness here. You’re wrong. When I realised my flight home was cancelled due to fog, I went to the customer services desk to figure out how to get back home. As many passengers were in the same predicament, we had to undergo a ticketing system to be seen. A KLM Staff Member realised that I was deaf and promptly made arrangements that I would be fetched in person when my number was called over the tannoy. This worked and I was very impressed with the service.
One of the major issues for me when going through an airport is the security x-ray scanner. As I have a Cochlear Implant, I cannot go through the X-Ray Scanner as it will scramble the programming of my CI. Therefore, I will need to have a pat down to bypass the scanner. I don’t mind that. However, many airports do not understand what a CI is and try to force me through the scanner. I usually stand my ground and sometimes I have an official letter with me in the native language to explain the issue. So this was truly a test for Schiphol. If they failed to be aware, it would be a big disappointment considering Schiphol is one of the major airports in the world. I’m glad to say that Schiphol passed with flying colours and as soon as I mentioned I had a CI, they knew the procedure straight away.
In terms of other deaf awareness, the security staff were patient, courteous and kept using gestures to demonstrate what they needed from us. And that’s just for everyone, both hearing and deaf.
9. Directions and Signage
Absolutely no problems with the directions and signage dotted all over the place!
10. At the Gate
Usually, one of the issues I receive at the Gate to depart is the tannoy system over the room mostly to call out seat numbers or give status updates. Unfortunately, I can’t quite make out what they are saying. I’m afraid this was the case at the gate. However, I positioned myself to see the speaker clearly so I could lip read her what she was saying.
SOLUTION: Printed status updates to give to a deaf passenger or see the passenger in person.
So if I had to give a score out of five to Schiphol Airport on how deaf friendly they are. I would say…FOUR! Just the little things that will definitely go a long way.
If you want to follow more adventures at Schiphol Airport, why not check out the #24SchipholKLM Page?
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This is a fabulous article and great that you are able to share your experiences. There are definitely some pros and cons to what you’ve experienced and I dare say the service at Schipol scored slightly higher than at other airports?
As for your flight, Humberside to Schipol I am very familiar with that route. Humberside is very close to me and I’ve taken that flight hundreds of times. I’ll certainly keep my eye out for you if you are on the flight again.
Haha, well we shall have to meet up and have a chinwag if you are close to me 🙂