Recently, myself and Masuma visited Becontree Bus Garage to talk to a group of TfL bus drivers about the challenges blind and partially sighted people face when travelling on buses.
We gave them spectacles to wear which simulated 6 common eye conditions: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, tunnel vision with cataracts (RP), hemianopia and cataracts. Then, we asked them to read bus numbers, locate seats, and get on and off the bus. They all agreed that the tasks were very difficult to do with the simulated spectacles on.
Next, we demonstrated various canes- the long cane, which is used as a mobility aid, the symbol cane, which is shorter and thinner, and used to highlight that a person has a visual impairment, and a long, red and white cane, which is used by people with both a hearing and visual impairment. The bus drivers explained to us that when they see a person with a cane or guide dog waiting at a bus stop they are obliged to stop regardless if the person has their hand out or not, and they would let them know what bus number it is.
We then discussed an important issue for a majority of VI passengers- when multiple buses arrive at a bus stop it becomes very difficult to see the busses at the back. Because of this, VI passengers often get left behind. Therefore, we suggested that subsequent buses behind a trail should wait at the bus stop to allow passengers to find out what the bus numbers are. Moreover, we mentioned that it’s not always easy to locate the Oyster card reader, as well as find an empty seat. The drivers said that passengers with a freedom pass do not have to tap the reader. They can show it to the driver, or the driver will know by seeing a white cane or guide dog. Furthermore, most buses have mirrors that allow the driver to see the entire bus, so they asked if it would be helpful if they should inform VI passengers where the empty seats are. Lastly, we also advised the bus drivers that if a bus is re-routed/diverted or stopped short of its destination, then it is helpful to have an audio-announcement. Without one, a vision impaired person does not know where they are on their journey, and can leave them feeling lost and disoriented.
Overall, the outcome of the meeting was very positive. The drivers who participated in our vision awareness training were glad they attended. It’s always a pleasure to work with organisations like TfL to help improve the quality of travel for people living with sight loss. Before you go, I would love to hear about your experience of travelling on public transport so we can give feedback at future training sessions.
Written by Bhavini Makwana, ELVis Activities Coordinator
Edited by Ray Calamaan, ELVis Communications Coordinator