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Flying under the radar at Fort McMurray's airport

by Holly Hashimi

These items can be found at the airport security desk. They indicate the wearer struggles with a hidden disability and may require additional assistance.

Airport experiences can cause stress for the most seasoned traveller – and it can be even more difficult for those struggling with hidden disabilities.

A hidden disability is a condition that might not be immediately apparent to those around you – different from a physical injury like a broken bone, which is easily seen with a cast and other accessories needed to get around.

From the Hidden Disabilities website (

“… while some of us experience a disability that is visible, many have a non-visible condition or experience a combination of both visible and non-visible conditions. These disabilities can be temporary, situational or permanent.


“They can be neurological, cognitive and neurodevelopmental as well as physical, visual, auditory and include sensory and processing difficulties. They can also be respiratory as well as chronic health conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, chronic pain and sleep disorders.”


Some of the hundreds of hidden disabilities listed on their website include Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Crohn’s Disease, Diabetes, Peri/Menopause, Anorexia, Depression, Cancer, Fibromyalgia, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Luckily, the Fort McMurray International Airport offers a way for those who are looking for some extra support and understanding to indicate this to all staff through the Hidden Disabilities program.

“I just hope that by joining this program it gives that extra comfort or takes stress away from our customers’ travel journeys,” says Jessica Perry, Route Development & Passenger Experience Specialist with the airport.

“I’ve had a lot of parents reach out in our info email asking if we are involved because their kids have autism or ADHD, when they are going through security or the airport, they can’t handle loud noises or it stresses them out going through security,” she explains. “It lets our security staff know they need extra attention and care when travelling through airport.”

The program, which features sunflowers as its logo and design, allows guests to pick up a lanyard, pin or bracelet from the airport security desk on the main floor.

Wearing one of these items will alert employees in airport businesses, restaurants, airline ticket counters and security who are trained in hidden disabilities to be able to respond and offer additional support to guests who require it.

The cause is extra important to Sara Stevens, the airport’s Manager of Health, Safety, Security & Environment, who understands what those with hidden disabilities endure herself.

“I live with a hidden disability …,” she says, noting not all individuals have the capability or capacity to “mask” their struggles and the costs can be very significant.

Stevens feels it’s important for all to recognize just how much different an experience can be for someone with an hidden disability.

“Those without a hidden disability are typically unaware of the effort(s) an individual experiencing disability is putting in to what the majority consider ‘normal’ or ‘basic’ activities…”

To learn more about the Hidden Disabilities program at the Fort McMurray International Airport, visit their website.

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