A scheme developed by disabled people in Brighton & Hove to get around easily by bus has just gone national.
It has been so successful other bus operators in the city are already using it as well as the city’s longest standing taxi firm Streamline, who formally adopted the scheme. Now public transport provider Go-Ahead is set to roll it out across its bus companies around the country.
Local groups Grace Eyre, Action on Hearing Loss, Guide Dogs (Brighton and Maidstone) and Possability People, together with those who use their services, directly influenced the colour, design and wording of the Helping Hand cards.
Graham Oulton, the former head of Brighton & Hove Guide Dogs who is registered blind, was highly instrumental in developing the scheme. He said: “Helping Hand is unlike any other such card I’ve experienced.
“It’s the size and sturdiness of a credit card and it’s got bump-ons in one corner so as soon as I feel it in my wallet I know it’s the Helping Hand card and which way round to show it.
“It means the driver is aware of me. He knows he needs to take extra care. I don’t have to say anything to the driver as the Helping Hand card does that for me. Mine says ‘Please assist if required’. Usually the driver waits, giving me the time to find my way to a seat and settle into it before moving off.
“It makes going out and about possible for someone like me and that’s a lifeline. It gives me independence and dignity.
“The best thing about the card is that it’s come about because users like me were involved in developing it. That’s the reason it works.”
Becky Ellis has what’s known as a hidden disability. She has learning disabilities and has – in the past – lacked the confidence to get on a bus. The Helping Hand card helped to make getting around so much easier for Becky.
She said: “I told Brighton & Hove Buses about how I got funny looks from other passengers when I sat in a priority seat and was often asked to move. It’s sometimes difficult for me to explain clearly why I have a right to be there and that I feel safer there because I’m closer to the driver. It’s also embarrassing having to explain myself.
“After my conversation, the bus company made sure that one of the messages on the pre-printed Helping Hand card was ‘priority seating required’.
“I just flash it at anyone who says I ought to get up from a priority seat and they understand and let me stay. I think it’s really helpful for people with hidden disabilities like me to help us to travel by bus.”
Victoria Garcia, Accessibility and Communities Officer at Brighton & Hove Buses, said: “Our goal with the card was to empower passengers to feel confident about taking public transport. We found that many of the existing schemes intended to improve accessibility were no more than flimsy cardboard, DIY messages either handwritten by customers or run off on a computer.
“We wanted to focus on the type of help required, rather than the details of the customer’s condition. Our unbranded card is already being used across bus operators in the city as well as in shops, cinemas and even on the continent. Many of the local groups that we worked with have told us their service users feel much more confident using the bus thanks to Helping Hand. We’re very proud of this initiative and we hope that it will be adopted widely across the country.”
Helping Hand is a discreet, unbranded bright yellow card with either a bespoke or off-the-shelf message for the driver giving them brief but valuable information so they can provide the right level and type of help required by a disabled person. The card deliberately does not mention the person’s disability or condition.
Instead, the card focuses on the type of help needed such as the following:
• Please be patient if I’m confused
• Please wait until seated
• Please speak clearly, I lip read
• Help count my change
• Please lower the step
• Priority seating required
As well as Brighton & Hove City Council, neighbouring councils in West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey also advocate the scheme to residents with accessibility needs via their websites.
In 2016 the pioneering card won a gold award at the UK Bus Awards in the Bus and Community category.