Graham and Becky's personal experiences of the Helping Hand card
Graham Oulton is registered blind. He doesn't see the world like the rest of us do. As a result of glaucoma, he has both tunnel vision plus a major loss of peripheral vision.
His condition is progressive, meaning life has become steadily more difficult. Everyday activities - such as getting the bus - are no longer straightforward.
Sometimes Graham - who travels with his trusted guide dog Bassey - can't see the bus approaching. When he's on board a bus that doesn't have talking technology he can't be certain when the bus is nearing his stop. It's not easy for him to navigate his way to a free seat on a busy bus that's trying to keep to a schedule. The whole experience can be full of anxieties.
But in fact Graham, who lives in Brighton, is an avid bus user. He and Bassey travel by bus most days. He manages well - really well - and it's in part thanks to a pioneering, award-winning accessibility card that has transformed bus travel for him.
He knew there was a great need for an accessibility card that didn't just help disabled people get out and about but allowed them to do it in a way that was dignified. There is no mention of a condition or disability, just what's required of the driver for the card holder to have a pleasant, anxiety-free, independent journey.
Graham is the former head of the Brighton & Hove branch of Guide Dogs and, together with the charity, was highly instrumental in developing the card. He worked with Brighton & Hove Buses to come up with the perfect solution: a small, discreet, unbranded yellow card with a bespoke message in black print directed at the driver.
"The Helping Hand card is unlike any other such card I've experienced", he says. "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. I know it helps some people to hail the bus from the bus stop because it's bright yellow."
"It makes going out and about possible for someone like me and that's a lifeline. It gives me independence and dignity."
There was a time Becky Ellis couldn't travel alone on a bus. The whole experience was just too difficult. She's a lovely, bubbly outgoing woman, so anyone who didn't know her would find it very difficult to understand why. That's because Becky 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.
Then four years ago she took part in a travel buddy scheme run by Grace Eyre, a charity that supports people with learning disabilities. She was paired up with someone who also has learning disabilities and travelled around with them for weeks until she had the confidence to travel alone. Once she started riding the bus independently, she began to experience how difficult it can be for someone with a hidden disability. Sometimes she found it hard to explain her needs to the driver - it often felt embarrassing to do so. Other customers would sometimes get cross with her for sitting in a priority seat - where Becky has always felt the safest as she's closer to the driver.
Becky's experiences of travelling by bus with a hidden disability has played a critical part in the development of Helping Hand. She worked closely with Brighton & Hove Buses to ensure people with learning difficulties were included in the bus services' accessibility provisions.
"After my conversation, the bus company made sure that one of the messages on the pre-printed Helping Hand card was 'priority seating required'.
The Helping Hand card helped to make getting around so much easier for Becky. She has used it - as it was intended - for drivers to understand her needs but also for other passengers.
"I just flash it at anyone who says I ought to get up and they understand and let me stay", she says.
Becky now travels confidently by bus and continues to work closely with the bus company such as with the Drama on the Bus scheme in which people with learning disabilities are given a dedicated bus - taken out of service specially for the purpose - on which to role-play the sort of scenarios that have in the past caused them anxiety when they tried travelling by bus. The scheme is run by Grace Eyre with the help of Brighton & Hove Buses.
If you want to know more about Graham or Becky's stories then get in touch:
Call 01273 886222