This week was Scottish Learning Disability Week. The week highlights the challenges that people with learning disabilities face in their day to day lives. Not least amongst these challenges is being able to access accessible and inclusive transport.
I got a personal insight into these challenges last year through my involvement with the development of Scotland’s Accessible Transport Action Plan which was launched by Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, in September 2016. One of my colleagues on the steering group, which produced the Plan, was someone with a learning disability from People First, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities to have more choice and control over their lives.
Research by the Disability Rights Commission in 2007 found that people with mental, rather than physical, impairments were amongst the most nervous and concerned about using public transport. One reason cited for this is unhelpful and complicated travel information, especially in areas with which individuals aren’t familiar, which makes it difficult and stressful to plan their travel.
Something else that struck me in listening to my colleague from People First was the concern that people with learning disabilities have for their personal safety when using transport. They feel vulnerable to attack and other forms of harassment just going about their day to day lives.
So what can be done to address this, and the other issues that those with learning difficulties face when accessing transport? The UK Government is adamant that there needs to be greater emphasis on training to equip transport customer service staff with the necessary skills to support people with learning difficulties to easily use transport services. In addition to customer service staff, it is suggested that bus drivers and taxi drivers receive similar training. Some local authorities are attempting to improve route and timetable information and others are proposing using ‘travel buddies’ to assist people with learning difficulties to use transport.
This chimes with People First which provides advocacy services for the people they support. One of the best initiatives towards giving people with learning difficulties the confidence to use transport is the Travel Buddy project in South West England. A travel buddy teaches people how to travel safely, confidently and independently. They will help with road safety and awareness skills, how to plan a route, and look at ways to stay safe when out and about. All buddies receive a structured training.
For those who have a local community transport service, getting about is usually a better experience for people with learning disabilities. Passenger assistance on vehicles is a common feature of community transport and this is often exactly what people need.