Compassion and kindness are at the heart of accessibility. Building a kinder culture is why embracing accessibility for all is so important. A recent story from WJLA in Washington DC illustrates the point.

Accessibility as an act of kindness

Ashley Ober, a deaf teen taking her first solo flight from Baltimore to Rochester, was understandably nervous about the journey. Though very independent and capable, Ashley worried about communication access and missing important flight information. Worse, what if she missed her connection?

Nevertheless, she boarded the plane. As she did, a thoughtful flight attendant handed Ashley a hand-written note. The note detailed everything she needed to know about flight safety and her route to Rochester.

Accessibility Matters: A hand-written note from a thoughtful flight attendant
A hand-written note from a thoughtful flight attendant


Hi good morning Ashley, My name is Janna and I will be your flight attendant on today’s flight to JFK. There are two buttons above your head a yellow one that controls the reading light and a big gray one with a person on it, that you can use to call me, if you need anything. In the case of emergency the nearest exit is behind you. Those are our over wing exits. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you need any assistance. Again my name is Janna and welcome aboard our CRJ200 aircraft.

Touched and grateful, Ashley shared the experience with her mother, who shared it on social media. There it received thousands of likes and was picked up by WJLA, and then by dozens of others, including CNN and People Magazine.

It has been months since her flight, but Ashley still carries the note in her bag for inspiration.

A lesson in accessibility

Recently I wrote about how “the good we do ripples out into the world in amazing, often unexpected ways.” In this case, one flight attendant brightened the world in story that’s been resonating online for months, prompting her airline (Delta) to reaffirm its commitment to accessibility for all:

“We are extremely proud of the thoughtful approach this Endeavor Air flight attendant took to make the customer feel welcome. Our goal is to make the world a more inclusive place, ensuring travel is easy for all people.” Inspired by Ashley’s story, Delta said flight attendants and gate agents who can sign will have the option to wear “a uniform language bar option for 300+ sign languages around the world.”
But Delta’s story doesn’t end there. Delta goes beyond the typical nod toward accessibility made by most businesses, by connecting accessibility with their core values: “Our mission is to connect the world, which starts with making travel easier for all people,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “It’s a small step on our journey, but a powerful change as we seek to make the world a smaller, more inclusive place.”
Accessibility Matters: Delta sign language pin for ASL
A Delta sign language pin for ASL

Kudos to Delta. My heartfelt thanks to Janna for her kindness. And, kudos to Ashley for not only conquering life, but sharing it with the world.

Now it is your turn

This is such a great example of the small but thoughtful steps business can take to be more inclusive. Do you have anyone in your organization that signs or has other skills that could help provide greater accessibility to your customers? If you don’t know, perhaps it is time to find out. Honoring both the team member with the talent to help and the customer with accessibility needs is an easy way to strengthen relationships with both.

I’d love to hear about the small (or big!) steps your organization is taking to provide greater accessibility to your employees and customers. Please share your comments below. And remember, if you’re unsure how to start or take next steps, I’m here to help.

Bill Schiffmiller is the CEO and Founder of Akoio, a company dedicated to providing products and services tailored to the needs of people with hearing loss. A life-long hearing aid user and hearing wellness advocate, Bill was the former Accessibility Advocate for Apple, Inc., and received his Master of Professional Studies degree in Design Management at Pratt Institute.