News Article Details

Washington Township man behind new sensory-friendly space at Pittsburgh airport

Valley News-Dispatch - 7/24/2019

Jul. 24--A sensory-friendly space for children and adults with autism and other special needs was unveiled Wednesday at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The idea for the room, called "Presley's Place," came from airport employee Jason Rudge, a heavy equipment operator from Washington Township in Westmoreland County.

Rudge and his wife, Sharon, have a 4-year-old son, Presley, who has autism.

Rudge wanted to help people with sensory processing issues by giving them a place to go when the sights, sounds, brightness and crowds of the airport feel overwhelming.

"I hope that everybody that has been wanting to fly for their entire life can start to go on vacations now," said Rudge, 39. "I hope this is going to catch on at other airports across the world and across the country. We, as special needs parents and families, need this in our lives."

Rudge has worked at the airport for seven years. The room came about after he proposed it to Christina Cassotis, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO.

Presley's Place offers a place for those with autism and other needs an opportunity to decompress while traveling and to get acclimated to flying.

The 1,500-square-foot suite includes a calming transition foyer, a family room, individual rooms with bubble tubes and an adult area. All are fully sound-proof.

It also includes an airplane experience with real seats, overhead bins and working lights. American Airlines and Magee Plastics donated a plane cabin and seating. It will also be used during first-time flyers classes to get novice travelers familiar with a plane, according to the airport authority.

A bathroom available to the public includes an adult changing table and adjustable sink.

Rudge said he had no reservations about approaching the CEO with his idea, as Cassotis has presented herself as accessible and not above airport employees like himself.

"I wasn't surprised I was able to get into her office by writing her that note," he said. "The hardest thing was believing in myself this could happen."

Cassotis said the airport wants to make flying accessible to everyone. More than 40 organizations and many parents participated in the development of the room, built in-house by airport staff.

"This room is an opportunity for special needs travelers from children to adults to have a place to decompress and get prepared to fly," she said.

Presley's Place is located in the airside terminal's Concourse A, near Gate A9. It's available at all hours.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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(c)2019 The Valley News-Dispatch (Tarentum, Pa.)

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