Victoria Garcia - Inclusive and Accessible Travel for All
Victoria Garcia is the Accessibility and Communities Officer at Brighton & Hove and Metrobus. She received an MBE in 2019 for her services to disabled transport users.
This week (29 March-4 April 2021) is World Autism Awareness Week. So why is it significant to write a blog about buses I hear you ask?
During World Autism Awareness week in 2018, the The National Autistic Society revealed that 75% of autistic people said that unexpected changes – such as delays, diversions, and cancellations - made them feel socially isolated.
Fear of experiencing unexpected changes had stopped 52% of respondents from taking the bus or train.
It is highly likely that three years on we could see similar levels of anxiety. This is especially considering that pandemic and lockdowns have caused increasing levels of isolation and loneliness across all groups and demographics.
This year the National Autistic Society is asking us to think about the society we want to live in when we leave lockdown, as well as the small things that we can all do to make everything work better for autistic children, adults and their families.
The Society wants everyone to understand five things about autism that autistic people and their families say are most important to them.
These are that autistic people can:
feel anxiety about changes or unexpected events
be under or over sensitive to sound, smells, light, taste and touch (this is called sensory sensitivity)
need time to process information, like questions or instructions
face high levels of anxiety in social situations
have difficulties communicating and interacting with others.
At Brighton & Hove and Metrobus, like other Go-Ahead bus operators, we've been listening to and working with charities, organisations, individual passengers and colleagues.
Change is happening, including our partnership work with travel training projects, such as the Grace Eyre 'Drama on the Bus' initiative, which places the lived experience of the user at the forefront of the entire training project.
Scenarios written and shared by users include 'my bus went a different way today- what do I do'? and I've lost my bus pass' are then enacted onboard an actual bus. Users are provided 'top travel tips', with our own driver training colleagues also learning from the experience and taking it back to depot to then teach other colleagues.
At Brighton & Hove and Metrobus we have also focused on the interior design of our buses, including floor layouts and colours as well as buses with audio-visual announcements.
Like other Go-Ahead bus companies, we have ensured that our app and websites designs are accessible, easier to navigate, and marketing materials are available in differing formats.
In November 2020 Brighton & Hove and Metrobus were awarded the highest level of 'Leader' accreditation status for the Inclusive Transport Strategy. This has only been possible due to the input from accessibility and disability organisations helping us to make changes. We will always need to continue to improve and make changes as people needs also change.
Our colleague Jackie Bryant is doing the Walk for Autism 10,000 step challenge. She has already raised £500 this week.
Jackie says: "I'm Walking for Autism to raise money and awareness about autism because my nine-year-old grandson, Alfie, is autistic and it's essential to raise awareness.
Alfie loves using the bus, although at the moment we travel everywhere with him. It's not long now before he goes to secondary school and he will want to travel independently.
Inclusive and accessible travel means more choice for more people . I want my grandson to live in a world whereby society doesn't restrict him and he has choice. Accessible travel will provide him with the options to choose how, where and when to travel'."