How accessible is British transport?

03 December 2021

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities – an opportunity for all of us to stop and consider how we can make our environment more inclusive for disabled people.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, disabled adults in England made almost a third fewer trips than non-disabled adults last year. Of course, last year was unique given the series of unprecedented lockdowns we all faced. The work we carried out this year shows that the pandemic has only added further challenges for disabled people. You can re-watch our accessibility webinar, featuring transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris, here.

Disabled drivers represent five per cent of the driving population, which is around two million people. Car travel remains the most popular form of transport among disabled adults and around a third of these journeys are made as a passenger.

Transport Focus looked at the experiences of disabled people on England’s motorways and major A-roads. We recommended to National Highways that it do more to help disabled road users understand what to do in a breakdown, improve clarity of road signs, review disabled facilities at services on its roads and publicise this information to help with journey planning.

We’re pleased to say that National Highways responded by reviewing and acting on our proposals – you can read more on this here.

We were also pleased to see National Highways partner with Driving Mobility UK. Now traffic officers will receive training on common types of vehicle adaptations and non-visible disabilities. This will really help to make disabled drivers feel safer and more comfortable on the roads.

Our weekly Travel during Covid-19 survey, running since May 2020, tracks behaviour and attitudes to safety among disabled and non-disabled travellers.

We still see that disabled people consistently rate higher in seeing Covid as a major concern, that they’re less likely to travel on public transport, and that they’re more likely to avoid travelling unless necessary, compared to non-disabled people.

But we also know that disabled people still face non-Covid-related physical barriers – and tell us they sometimes experience off-putting antisocial behaviour from other passengers too.

Some progress is being made. Disabled rail passengers have seen gradual improvements in the accessibility of rail services over time

The advent of Great British Railways appears to have brought a renewed focus to addressing some of those problems. Work is already underway on an accessibility audit of rail stations. But making physical changes won’t be enough if the hearts and minds of staff (customer-facing and those behind the scenes) aren’t on board too. This isn’t just about schemes at improving accessibility. It’s about changing behaviour and awareness too.

Recently we came across a proposal to improve disruption information on trains. The information would be provided remotely in the form of a text-to-speech message to the train. But we couldn’t see how deaf or hearing-impaired passengers would receive the information.

We urged more consideration be given to addressing the needs of those who are unable to hear audio announcements. We hear there has now been a diversity impact assessment and further work to get the information onto visual displays at the same time.

We want transport providers to do more to let disabled passengers know what’s already in place. The new Accessible Travel Policies on rail will help, but it’s clear from speaking to passengers that they are often unaware of what assistance and travel tools are available to them.

We know that not every disabled passenger wants assistance or can book it, but we also know more passengers would benefit from knowing that it’s there if they need it. If public transport wants to attract disabled passengers back, the basics need to be much more front and centre than they have been. Tell passengers what to expect and make it easy for them to provide feedback.

So lots has been done and lots more to be done. Today, we must take a moment to consider the difficulties faced by disabled people, even in what should be straightforward activities.

You may notice that we have started providing Word versions of our reports alongside the accessible PDFs, to help those who need different font types, colours or sizes. We aim for Plain English in all of our communication, and where possible we provide explainer videos or other visual versions.

Our website and social media are regularly reviewed for accessibility. Where we have online or real life events, we provide subtitles or sign language (on request). We’re trying to live our values and make sure accessibility is genuinely part of everything we do, not just an added extra.

But, as we keep saying to transport providers, we can all do better. So if you want to feed back on our accessibility efforts – or anything else! – do leave a comment here or tweet me @anthonysmithTF.


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