There are many barriers to travel experienced by people with a disability. In a recent workshop for the TRIPS project (https://trips-project.eu/) to investigate solutions to obstacles, we could explore those in detail. People with a disability discussed their experience as a precursor to exploring solutions for the future.
Some of the barriers occurred across multiple locations, and it can be helpful to group these together to understand them a little better. Many barriers were related to “public awareness and assistance, ” including “culture and attitudes”. Other barriers referred to “infrastructure“, which included very definite issues such as “the sidewalk condition impedes the use of the bus platform for boarding” or “the Inability to get to the selected station because the platforms and their equipment (like lifts and elevators) do not work”. These environmental barriers and the inaccessible design of Interfaces, and the lack of functioning assistive equipment formed almost half of all the barriers reported. Although in the workshops, the single barrier that was most identified related to the provision of Information and communication. Other barriers related to general service quality, such as services at night or long lead times for booking, were not emphasised as much as we anticipated in the workshops, whilst a specific concern about a lack of resilience in unexpected events regularly arose in the travel stories.
In the workshops, the barriers and challenges experienced were discussed across a range of disabilities. Many of these were shared in common by the participants; access to public transport was challenging due to poor maintenance or broken or poorly functioning equipment. As a result, ease of boarding and safely leaving a vehicle was compromised. Poor infrastructure design contributed to a system where travellers felt dependent upon the goodwill and support of people and often meant that accessible transport or accommodations had to be booked well in advance, reducing the opportunity to take part in events spontaneously.
Orientation and wayfinding are often challenging for any passenger, but was especially problematic for those with disabilities due to the low quality of signage and few accessible wayfinding signs available. Such as lack of information was exacerbated by a perceived lack of training around the needs of passengers with a disability. Attitudinal and behavioural barriers were regarded as significant. These included other passengers and travellers’ behaviour, which resulted in barriers being created, such as bus stops being blocked by cars and poor communication.
Participants spoke openly about how often they encountered these barriers. Inadequate maintenance, signage and infrastructure design led to hurdles and unusable resources. When coupled with the lack of training and poor behaviour of other passengers and travellers, it was unsurprising that participants felt frustrated.
One participant described how she travelled from her house to the university. She travelled by train and then by wheelchair until she reached the university. She stopped using the door-to-door bus service since the driver refused to drive into the university campus even when authorised. This appeared to reflect an underlying issue of training and knowledge by employees.
Mobility and travel are critical to the independence of people with a disability. Journeys involved planning, travelling to an access point, the experience at that point, boarding, onboard experience, interchanges and arriving at the destination. At each stage, barriers could emerge and could be unanticipated. Some barriers could be critical and were likely to prevent a journey from occurring; others could be thought of as disturbing and could only be overcome with significant effort. Some might be considered only as annoying, creating frustration without disrupting a journey, but cumulatively over time was exhausting. Ultimately, successful and enjoyable travel for those with disabilities was based upon the same criteria that anyone would apply. Travelling independently, quickly and conveniently, in comfort and safety at a price that could be afforded. Such an expectation seemed entirely reasonable for all.