It was exciting and important news when I heard that I / we (ECL) were put forward for a project with the local train operator Greater Anglia to visit a 'train factory' in Switzerland (yes, you heard me) to input to the design of the next generation of trains for Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.
The aim of the visit was to check the accessibility for sensory impaired people of the new intercity trains, which would be in service in the UK for the next 30 years – so you can see why this was exciting and important news! So off I went, with a colleague from Essex County Council and the project team leader from Greater Anglia.
A bit of back ground for you... as a not-for-profit sensory specialist service we cover different types and causes of sight and hearing impairment and the emotional and psychological effects these can have on people – public transport being one of the frustrations for many.
We need to ensure that accessibility and inclusion is considered more from a sensory point of view at a time when 1 in 6 people in the UK have a hearing loss and 1 in 30 have a sight impairment.
It is important that we make changes to our surroundings where we can to make life easier for those with sensory impairments, their friends, family, neighbours and the wider public wishing to enjoy their independence!
It's not just about coming up with the ideas, we need to be able to listen and find the compromise between different needs where appropriate such as:
Adapting the environment to enable it to go beyond function (in this case a train).
Growing it into a positive experience.
Building confidence for sensory impaired passengers and taking the 'strain' out of train travel.
I'm pleased to say that Greater Anglia are embracing this.
The prototype train was a wooden replica of how the new train would look including:
The staff at Greater Anglia and the Stadler Rail workshop in Switzerland were very receptive to our feedback concerning lighting, colour contrast, possible trip hazards and good signage.
Thanks to you all for making yesterday such a success! Your input was terrific. The day went perfectly and we all benefitted greatly from your knowledge. We look forward to the Action Plan being received - and updates along the way.” Customer Engagement Manager, Greater Anglia
The changes and feedback as a result of our visit were so well received that we were then invited to Derby where another prototype train at Bombardia was awaiting our attention to ensure that Greater Anglia designed exceptional rolling stock supporting access, integration independence and equality.
I have to say thank you to Greater Anglia for giving this totally blind, fun loving and humbled sensory trainer the chance to accompany the 'big cheese' to Switzerland and Derby to ensure that travel does not have to 'grate' on people's nerves and generally cause less of a 'pickle' for sensory impaired travellers in East Anglia for the foreseeable future.
By Terri Sawkins, Sensory Training Facilitator at the ECL Sensory Service.