For those with disabilities, rail networks can be testing environments. And despite the work that is being carried out to break down the barriers, there are still some stations, trains and platforms that pose problems. That’s the situation for many with mobility issues – some of whom will be using wheelchairs or walking aids and so present clear indicators to staff and fellow passengers that they require assistance – but it’s also the case for those members of society that don’t on first appearance look like they need help. Take those living with dementia, for example; for them undertaking a journey could be a very confusing place indeed.
Helping to provide that essential support, the winners of a UK government-funded competition backed by the RSSB (Rail Safety and Standards Board) are using technology to improve the rail travel experience for those with dementia. Part of the Department for Transport (DfT) Inclusive Transport Strategy tasked with achieving equal access for disabled people, the winning dementia-focused app in question is called Welcome Aboard.
Based on an existing smartphone app that already enables disabled users to get better customer service at airports, retailers or hotels, this latest version features a two-way communication between passengers and staff and will alert staff to a passenger's arrival at the station. In this project, Go Upstream, a training company focusing on travel and dementia; Neatebox, a Scottish Assistive Tech Start-up; and Open Change, a service design company, will work with the Dementia Engagement & Empowerment Project (DEEP) network of people living with dementia and London North Eastern Railway, the train operating company that recently came under the control of the UK government.
Helping ensure that the app is fit for purpose, the groups behind the technology regularly speak directly with those living with hidden disabilities to hear about their experiences – something the developers said creates a solution that truly responds to their needs. After an initial research and development stage the app will be trialled at a major UK station.
Speaking on the app and of the government’s determination to make travel suitable to all, the transport accessibility minister, Nusrat Ghani, said it was determined to remove any barriers. “Everyone deserves the right to travel independently and with confidence. Supporting innovative projects like Welcome Aboard demonstrates our commitment to improving people’s journeys, and I look forward to seeing how this app will benefit passengers in the years to come."
Rachael Litherland from Innovations in Dementia, hosts of the DEEP network, said: “People with dementia say just how important it is to continue to be able to get out and about, and enjoy their lives. It’s really exciting to be part of this project, making the most of technology to assist people on their journeys.”
You may also find this interesting: