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FEATURE: Blind bus training for First Bus drivers
EVER tried climbing the stairs when it’s dark or finding a light switch in the pitch-black? Multiply that difficulty ten-fold and you have some idea of the challenges a partially-sighted person faces every day.
A simple task such as catching the bus, paying your fare, finding a seat and then getting off at the right stop becomes a lot harder when you are visually impaired ...as County Gazette reporter Daniel Milligan and Taunton Deane MP Jeremy Browne found out.
That is the reason the charity Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is campaigning to make travelling by bus easier for people who are blind and partially sighted by installing audio equipment in every bus in Somerset.
The fear of not knowing where your next footstep will go or what money is in your hand are just some of the problems you have to overcome.
Add on to that impatient customers, a busy bus with nowhere to sit or very little geographic knowledge of the area and you begin to see why charity groups want to make bus journeys easier for people.
Neil Howe, from the charity, said: “The problem is people who are blind or partially-sighted do not know if they are on the right bus and when to get off at the correct stop.
“Often, buses do not stop for people and they can be standing there but can’t see the number of the bus and, on a lot of occasions, the bus sails by.”
Mr Howe said only 13% of buses in the country have audio assistance installed but this is far less in Taunton Deane.
MP Jeremy Browne donned special glasses which gave him around 10% vision and had a go at boarding a bus himself.
He said: “It was a fascinating experience and gave me a real insight into the difficulties people face.
“Blind and partially-sighted people are hugely reliant on public transport to lead normal and active lives.
“They obviously encounter practical difficulties when travelling but new technology does provide opportunities to make it easier.
“This particular focus makes sure people know when to get off the bus along with other improvements including making enough space available around the seats and how payment methods are made as easy as possible.”
First Bus will begin specialist training for its 17,000 drivers across the country this month, including those who drive their fleet of 45 buses that leave from Taunton bus station.
Drivers will be encouraged to either verbally guide or physically assist customers with sight problems to their seat and to alert them when their stop is approaching.
Barbara Bedford, of First Bus, said: “As part of our commitment to improve customer service we will be working with a number of disability groups to understand how the company can provide better services.
"Training of the drivers will highlight some of the obstacles people who are blind or partially-sighted have to overcome when catching the bus.”
One of the most well-known visually impaired people in Taunton is former Mayor Richard Lees who said he and his wife, Sue, were the only two visually impaired Taunton Deane councillors.
Richard, who is totally blind after suffering a reaction to a wasp sting when he was 13, said: “I have not used a bus in years because it is too stressful and too difficult – I would always walk instead.
"If you can get a bus that will stop and tell you where it is going or what number it is then, yes, it would be a good move."
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