Why public transport is vital to ensure equality for all – Michael McEwan

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For many people, even though public transport plays a big part in their daily lives, they may not give it much thought unless there’s a problem. But if you have a disability, it can be challenging to find accessible public transport across Scotland, writes Michael McEwan.

Aside from my research as a journalist, I’ve first-hand knowledge of this in my role as chair of my local disability group, East Renfrewshire Disability Action (ERDA). We recently ran a campaign to address the lack of accessible taxis. Once there was just one fully accessible taxi in East Renfrewshire, but after six years of meetings with the council and steering groups to show them the need for more, there are now 20-plus accessible cabs registered in the area.

Being able to use public transport helps people with disabilities live a life of equal opportunities (Picture: Jane Barlow)

Being able to use public transport helps people with disabilities live a life of equal opportunities (Picture: Jane Barlow)

At national level, an accessible travel framework is in process to ensure people with a disability have the absolute right to live a life of equal opportunities – the ability to travel being an important enabler of those opportunities.

This framework has been co-produced by the National Transport Accessibility Steering Group, which includes local government, Transport Scotland and people with a disability. The main purpose is to support disabled people’s rights by removing barriers and improving access to travel. Issues being addressed include getting on and off a bus, train or ferry etc, accessible travel information, getting to transport facilities, staff attitudes and transferring between different modes of transport. The group has been working together to gather knowledge, advice and the lived experiences of disabled people, as well as people currently working in the public transport sector.

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The main focus to ensure co-operation between disabled people and transport sector staff continues, the hope is to effect real change.

There have been a number of problems highlighted recently in the UK media, including a young man from Troon who was left stranded on a train miles from home due to the absence of a pre-booked ramp on board and the shocking story of a paraplegic man who had to drag himself through Luton Airport after his self-propelling wheelchair was left behind on a flight. But there are hopeful signs too.

Edinburgh-based company Neatebox has designed an app for people with reduced mobility and hidden disabilities to help them get the assistance they need at Edinburgh Airport. The app sends a signal to the airport’s Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM) reception area to notify staff that the passenger is on their way, to enable them to prepare for their arrival and offer a personal and respectful service. Founded in 2011 by former guide dog mobility instructor, Gavin Neate, Neatebox looks to improve the lives of disabled people through the use of smart technology. Edinburgh also recently became the first airport in Scotland to be recognised as autism friendly.

On the rail network, ScotRail has teamed up with Interpreter Now to introduce a new British Sign Language (BSL) app to Scotland’s railways, a first for the UK industry. Interpreter Now is a service that delivers immediate access to online interpreting for BSL users, enabling deaf and hearing people to communicate. Users connect via a video call to an interpreter who can relay the customer’s query to members of staff. The interpreter then signs the answer.

While it is encouraging to see the development of disability support network and apps within the public transport system, there is still much work to be done to ensure that people with a disability have the confidence to move freely and safely around the country.