Research Projects

Wilkomen, Bienvenue, Welcome! The Need for and Benefits to Providing Multilingual and Other Accommodations at Airports

Assigned to Ian Todreas
Last Edited by Mike Salamone

Everyone flies! Today's traveling public is more diverse than ever. U.S. airports are serving people of more countries of origin, age ranges, language groups, nationalities, ethnicities, religious groups, physical/cognitive abilities, and income brackets than ever before.

 

However, most airports have not done an adequate job of modernizing their communications and facilities to accommodate this diversity. Not only are airports missing an opportunity to engage and gain loyalty of new customer segments, but far too often they are not meeting federal and state regulations that mandate certain services and accommodations under the ADA, Title VI, and other rules. As such, too many airports are vulnerable to enforcement and compliance actions by the DOJ and lawsuits from private interests.

 

Airports need help and guidance. For example, many don't even realize that they are suppose to have a Language Access Plan or review their websites for 508 compliance. There is no one-stop shop or centralized resource for airports that addresses regulations surrounding accommodations to populations. Airports need a digital or print resource that incorporates best practices from leading airports, case studies, with easy to understand and implement steps and checklists to help airports comply with (even get ahead of or exceed) regulations and welcome the whole range of diverse and foreign language speaking travelers who use airports.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

At this point in time, several generations into the Information Age, the world has become a multinational, multicultural, multiethnic marketplace, and greater access to technology and travel media has accelerated the many iterations, forms, and venues of "multi-ness" around the globe. However, for all of our burgeoning connectedness, the great majority of interpersonal actions remain within familiar settings among people who understand and operate within the comfort of their own language and its nuances, meanings, codes, and jargon.

Airports, especially (monolingual) U.S. airports, are challenging environments for the increasing number passengers who have varying levels of English language proficiency. Too often, airports fail to communicate effectively with a wide range of passengers, employees, and visitors-- adding to stresses and lost opportunities and reducing efficacy of business and service delivery within airports. Notorious examples include a sticker/sign in Frankfurt Airport in which the English words "WARNING: bar rotates" were followed by the Spanish "ADVERTERNCIA: girar barra," which is an imperative to turn the bar rather than to avoid contact with it, American Airlines' "fly naked" slogan in South America as non-localized translation designed to promote the attractiveness of its leather seats in first class, and the Airports Authority of India's sign warning English-speaking customers that "eating carpet strictly prohibited" in an effort to deter airport users from eating in carpeted areas of the airport.

Today most airports choose to "speak" to non native English speaking customers through several different systems: multilingual signs in most-frequent languages, computerized directional maps and information kiosks offering expected but limited languages, computerized pre-programmed multilingual announcement systems, access to vocal interpretation via button-coded telephone lines, as-needed calls to registered airport staff members who speak in other tongues and sign languages, multilingual personnel fanned out through the airport or at on-site information centers, and even wandering robotic interpreters. Each approach offers its own successes but comes with its own limitations and potential drawbacks.

FAA regulations recognize that "Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] and its regulations require airports to take reasonable steps to ensure 'meaningful' access to DOT recipients' programs and activities" and "actually provide necessary services to LEP persons." ("DOT Guidance to Recipients on Special Language Services to Limited English Proficient (LEP) Beneficiaries," Federal Register, Vol. 66, No. 14, Monday, January 22, 2001, pgs. 6736 and 6739). FAA does give airports latitude in their interpretation of the guidelines and their approaches to the issue. Among other specifics, the FAA guidelines suggest implementation of management and staff training systems within airports, study of linguistic needs at the site, and investigation of various platforms and devices, especially regarding emergency situations.

While more and more travelers who don't speak fluent English are traveling through U.S. airports, generally speaking airports have not kept up with their regulatory mandates, commercial opportunities, and ethical obligations to provide accommodations to all passengers. Research is needed on what is at stake for airports given this lapse—and how to address it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that airports stand to gain economically, reputationally, and legally by fully adhering to federal government language and accessibility rules and regulations—and even going further, employing best practices from international airports and some American airport leaders in this area to make all travelers feel welcome in their native tongues, if possible.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

Everyone flies! Today's traveling public is more diverse than ever. U.S. airports are serving people of more countries of origin, age ranges, language groups, nationalities, ethnicities, religious groups, physical/cognitive abilities, and income brackets than ever before.

 

However, most airports have not done an adequate job of modernizing their communications and facilities to accommodate this diversity. Not only are airports missing an opportunity to engage and gain loyalty of new customer segments, but far too often they are not meeting federal and state regulations that mandate certain services and accommodations under the ADA, Title VI, and other rules. As such, too many airports are vulnerable to enforcement and compliance actions by the DOJ and lawsuits from private interests.

 

Airports need help and guidance. For example, many don't even realize that they are suppose to have a Language Access Plan or review their websites for 508 compliance. There is no one-stop shop or centralized resource for airports that addresses regulations surrounding accommodations to populations. Airports need a digital or print resource that incorporates best practices from leading airports, case studies, with easy to understand and implement steps and checklists to help airports comply with (even get ahead of or exceed) regulations and welcome the whole range of diverse and foreign language speaking travelers who use airports.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)

The research plan should include appropriate interim deliverables that will require ACRP approval, including at a
minimum: (1) a listing of potential case studies representative of lessons learned at different types and sizes of
airports as well as several case studies representative of other industries; (2) a gap analysis that identifies current
methods and practices versus potential alternatives; (3) a summary of descriptions of various communication
techniques and methods to include tec
hnological solutions and training opportunities defined for different types of
needs; and (4) an interim report that describes work done in early tasks with an updated work plan for remaining
tasks, including (a) draft outline of the guidance document, (b)
a draft of one case study from an airport and one from
another industry, and (c) a draft sample of one chapter of the guidance document.

Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

$400K. This level of funding is recommended to conduct the onsite research, interviews, and p
roduct development as
defined in the scope.

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.

Report 161: Improving Airport Services for International Customers
ACRP 04
-21 Emergency Communication Models for Persons with Disabilities and Non
-English Speakers.

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