United Airlines has become the first U.S. airline to add Braille to aircraft interiors, an investment the company hopes will help “millions of travelers with visual disabilities more easily navigate the cabin independently.”
The accessibility feature has debuted on about a dozen aircraft, consisting of Braille markings for individual rows and seat numbers, plus markings both inside and outside the onboard lavatories. In a press release announcing the program, United said that it expects to install Braille signage on its entire mainline fleet by the end of 2026.
The airline claims that its efforts to make air travel more accessible to blind and low vision travelers won’t end with Braille signage. United said that it is working with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and other disability advocacy groups on an additional range of tactile features, which may include raised letters, numbers and arrows, for future inclusion in the aircraft cabin. Such navigational aids are important, as a 2009 report from the NFB’s Jernigan Institute found that “fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States are Braille readers.” Braille is an important step towards inclusion, but it is not enough.
NFB President Mark Riccobono identified the major challenge impacting blind airline passengers, the large amount of “information that is available exclusively through printed signs and other visual indicators.” He applauded United for its commitment to make Braille a fixture on its mainline fleet, and said he hopes “to explore additional ways to make flying more accessible and less stressful for blind passengers” on United and other airlines.
ACB Interim Executive Director Dan Spoone stated that his organization appreciates United’s “continued exploration of additional in-flight navigational aids like large print and tactile indicators” and he hopes all airlines will follow United’s lead.
Braille signage is a small first step (and the easiest to accomplish) in making airplanes more accessible to blind travelers. Airlines should look to offer braille safety cards and menus, other tactile aids, inflight connectivity for digital aids like Aira, accessible in-flight entertainment, comprehensive staff training and more.