Community Rail Lancashire has recently been awarded a grant from the Community Rail Network’s Small Grants Fund. The grant will help British Sign Language (BSL) users gain confidence to use the rail network.
Community Rail Lancashire has an established programme of working with groups with a wide range of accessibility needs to learn about and experience rail travel. The objective of this programme is to ensure that passengers understand how to be safe whilst travelling by rail and are as confident and as independent as possible. With the interruption of the pandemic (and subsequent ‘pingdemic’), we are looking forward to getting back to this programme in September.
In addition to schools returning, September is Deaf Awareness Month. With 151,000 British Sign Language (BSL) users in the UK, and a welcomed increasing focus on supporting those with nonvisible disabilities, CRL is looking to deliver three specific BSL supported railway confidence trips from Preston Station during September.
Despite discounted rail cards being available to the Deaf community the challenges of negotiating the station environment and accessing rail travel is often too stressful with many in the community avoid it entirely. For example, Bryn (a Deaf passenger) has told us that “experience varies but it can be very frightening, and I get nervous about travelling. I cannot hear audible information or the tannoy. When there are platform changes, there is no easily accessible information for Deaf people. The service is poor and the Wi-Fi connection is often not good. There is no mobile connection sometimes, especially in tunnels making it difficult to access information.” Although this is what one person has shared it is indicative of what many, unfortunately, experience on our railways.
With the impact of the pandemic on rail travel rail companies are understandably focused on encouraging passengers to ‘get back on track’ and more specifically to the area we cover Northern is imploring “The People of the North!” to ‘Go Do Your Thing’. This project will, in a small way, help some of those who need a little extra support to do just that. The Deaf community is close-knit and by empowering a small number of people it is hoped that the ripple effect, through word-of-mouth and organic peer supported journeys, a larger number of people will benefit and become confident rail passengers.
Developing relationships with members of the Deaf community will enable us to conduct more effective and personal consultation in the future. The results of this project will be used to help Train Operating Companies make rail more accessible to the deaf community.