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Pittsburgh International to build 'sensory room' for travelers with autism

Theresa Clift
| Friday, April 20, 2018, 4:09 p.m.
The sensory room at Shannon Airport in Ireland
Shannon Airport
The sensory room at Shannon Airport in Ireland

Pittsburgh International Airport is on track to become the third airport in the world with a “sensory room,” to make flying more accessible to people with disabilities, airport officials said.

The idea came from a note dropped in Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis' mailbox from a heavy equipment operator named Jason Rudge.

Rudge, who has a 3-year old son with autism, wanted to help people with sensory processing issues have a place to go when the sights, sounds, brightness and crowds of the airport feel overwhelming.

“I did my research and found that a sensory room at an airport is going to help families, all individuals with special needs that need help to go on vacations come to the busy airport,” Rudge said.

After dropping the note at the end of the year, Rudge checked every day for two weeks to see if it had been picked up, he said.

When Cassotis saw it, she was immediately interested and gave him a call, she said.

“We will be one of the few airports in the world that has one and we will all be thanking Jason and his son Presley for the inspiration,” Cassotis said.

Shannon Airport in Ireland and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are the only other airports in the world with sensory rooms, Cassotis said.

Sensory rooms can have bubbles, a slow-moving swing, dim lights and tactile walls, Rudge said.

It's not yet decided what features the airport room will have.

Airport authority officials have met with advocacy groups and will next hear from the public at a meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Pittsburgh Airport Marriott, 777 Aten Road, Coraopolis.

Officials are also not yet sure where in the sensory room will be located, but it will be on the first floor in the airside terminal. It will be accessible after passengers go through security, Cassotis said.

The room is set to open by the end of the year, Cassotis said.

Rudge stressed the room will not just be for children or for people with autism, but for people of all ages with sensory processing issues.

“I truly believe people with special needs don't feel they are able to fly, so they take those short drives maybe to Erie, but now let's go, let's go all across the world,” Rudge said.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, or via Twitter @tclift.

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