Friday, 10 April 2015

Access All Areas: Training the Transport Department

International Access Symbol (white wheelchair symbol on a blue background) created with crochet by Jodiebodie using a freeform technique to create the shapes and finished with a white crab stitch border.
International Access Symbol
crocheted by Jodie


In 2011, I attended a 'Come and Try Accessible Public Transport' day organised by the government's transport department. 

It was a chance to try out the various forms of transport in a safe environment while at the same time provide feedback to the government about the transport system of the day and how to best cater for the needs of people with disabilities.  

New trains and trams had been commissioned and the government was seeking advice from people with disabilities about how to design the internal features of the trains to make them more accessible.

It was very exciting to be able to influence positive change and communicate with decision-makers.

The aim of the event was a two-way flow of information. 

The public transport operators provided trains, busses, trams and modified taxis for people with disabilities to 'come and try' with information about how the system works.  It was a chance for people who haven't used public transport before to find out whether it was possible for their wheelchairs to fit into the vehicles, to inspect the new trams etc.

It was also a chance to educate the transport staff about disability. Many of the suggestions made by passengers and potential passengers were enthusiastically received and the great benefit was that people could demonstrate issues to the transport staff in person and do some joint problem-solving.

Australian suburban electric passenger train; 4000 class  (no. 4003 entered service circa 2014) ) at a railway station platform. The train has silver sides with a red roof and red ends. Waiting passengers can be seen at the left of the picture.
One of the new 4000 class electric locomotives (no. 4003 entered service circa 2014)

The event was well-staffed with lots of assistance for people to be able to give their feedback. All in all, the general feel of the day was of positive discussion. It was so successful there was talk of having regular 'Come and Try' days in the future.  Further information about the day is listed at the end of this post.

It is very important to have people with a range of disabilities involved instead of having one token representative on a board somewhere–just because a person has a disability, doesn't mean they are an expert in all types of disability. In a similar vein, just because we have all attended school, doesn't mean we are all experts in education (even though a lot of people think that it qualifies them to be!). The reality is that each individual is an expert in their own experience of disability.

It was very exciting to be able to have a say and even more exciting to see the implementation of many of the recommendations heard on the day when the new trains came into service in 2014 .

As a train traveller, here are some examples:

Many of the train platforms are not level with the decks of the trains or there is a large gap between train and platform.  Train drivers use portable ramps to help passengers with wheelchairs to bridge the gap. To do this, the driver (there are no conductors) needs to know when the ramp is needed.  

In the past, the driver would ask the passenger on boarding at which station the ramp needed to be deployed. This meant that the passenger was at the mercy of the driver's memory! 

On many occasions, passengers missed their stations because drivers simply forgot and there was no method for passengers to communicate with the driver who was in a separate compartment.

There was often insufficient space allocated for multiple passengers with wheelchairs, walkers, prams or bicycles which led to friction between passengers on crowded services, where all of these needs were competing for space.

Signage was poor and the P.A. systems either didn't work or were so distorted that announcements were unintelligible. People with vision and hearing impairments took their chances sometimes not being totally sure whether they were on the right train or getting off at the right place.

There was no formal assistance available for people with intellectual disabilities who can easily become unsettled by changes to timetables or routes, or simply missing the right stop.

The 'emergency intercom' inside the 4000 class passenger train that allows passengers to contact the train driver via 2-way intercom. The blue button on the left is a 'ramp request' button to alert the driver that the passenger(s) require the on-board ramp to alight at the next station.
The new trains now have plenty of room for wheelchairs etc.  The new trains have a wide central aisle and carriages joined so that I can get on at the front of the train and wheel all the way down to the back of the train if there are no spaces at the front.

In each wheelchair bay there is a 'ramp request' button to indicate to the driver that they will need a ramp at the next station. The two-way intercom system allows passengers to communicate with the driver if they have any difficulties.  

This feature is not only useful for those with physical disabilities but also for any passenger who might need assistance–another example to prove my point that when you help people with disabilities you will also help other groups of people.

These simple modifications make me feel much more confident to travel independently and that is the whole point–to allow people with disabilities the same level of independence as everybody else

The buzz-phrase to describe this is 'social inclusion' and transport is a key to being able to get out and about to participate fully in society.

Other modifications include new signage both internally and externally to indicate the train's destination. 

Inside the train, electronic screens display the name of the next station and on approach to the station a P.A. system announces, "Now arriving at (insert station name)." When a station is near a significant destination like the showgrounds or an educational institution, the announcement continues, "Alight here for the showground/university/swimming pool etc."

I do hope these installations are large enough and loud enough for people with multiple sensory impairments to be able to see and/or hear them properly.

These are all simple things that make a huge difference to accessibility. For years people with disabilities have been complaining and asking, "It can't be that hard?!"  so it was a mixture of exasperated relief and excitement to finally have the government approach and ask people with disabilities themselves.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't all rosy …yet. The system is still not perfect; not fully accessible.  There is still a long way to go:
  • Too many station platforms and tram stops are still not accessible to all and need major renovation to achieve accessibility.  
  • Automatic ramps would allow people with disabilities to use any door on any carriage instead of being forced to use the door at the leading carriage (which is often very crowded) because that is where the driver keeps the portable ramp. Automatic ramps would also be ideal to save driver's backs.  I suspect this can only be practicable when all of the platforms are completely level with the train decks.
  • Over half of the local transport network is not equipped for the new electric locomotives but is still running diesel.  The commuters unfortunate enough to be along these antiquated lines cannot enjoy the accessible benefits of the new electric trains. 
  • The 'powers-that-be' need to maintain the will to make the upgrade of the entire system an urgent priority and that gets back to one of the major barriers for people with disabilities–societal attitudes!
  • Correct training of staff and efficient communication channels are essential.
Unless the need for social inclusion is in the forefront of decision-maker's minds, we are at risk of losing the gains we have made.  It is important to continue the awareness-raising and problem-solving.
  • Write that letter or email! 
  • Make that phone call!  
  • Let people know what is working well too so that they can keep doing it! Remember, praise goes a long way towards opening people's minds and changing attitudes.
  • Tell people and keep reminding them about the issues that concern you!
When we help minority groups in society, the unintended consequence is that it usually helps everyone else in some way. Unless people speak up, how will the powers-that-be ever know about an issue?

I have faith in a future where people can work together to improve the quality of life for everyone. 

Every time I board a new train and see the new improvements helping people, it feels great to know that I have been a part of that change and that I do have some influence in my community.

Don't ever think that you are powerless in your situation. Each of us has a 'sphere of influence' in our lives.  Even if you get the attention of just one other person and make them think a little differently, then you have made a difference.  That one person might go on to influence others and so your influence expands.  I will leave you with one of my favourite mottos:

If you think you are too small to make a difference,
try sleeping in a room with one tiny mosquito!


Adelaide Metro, "Community Activities–Come and Try Accessible Transport Day", Version 1.0 June 2012, PDF document: doc_Community_Activity_Accesible_Transport20120621-1.pdf, 4 pp, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI), Government of South Australia, 21 June 2012,
This document is the public relations material of Adelaide Metro describing the 'Come and Try' day and its outcomes. (One of my friends appears in the photograph on page 3.)

Adelaide Metro, "Accessibility & Disability", web page, <> updated 23 July 2014, accessed 10 April, 2015.

Related Posts

Dunn, Matthew, "The Ups and Downs of Ramps and Stairs", online article, Crochet Between Two Worlds [blog], 20 January 2015:

Lupey Loops, "Michelle's Melbourne Adventure", blog entry, 13 February 2015:


  1. Fascinating post today. As the mother of a child with cerebral palsy I think this is terrific, well as a therapist I do too. I love that the government has asked and actually listened to make improvements.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Meredith. You would be quite familiar with these issues then; and (with an indignant tone) so the government *should* ask its constituents! The government and its public servants need to remember that their purpose is to do just that - serve the public!
      For a long time, I wanted to know how these issues were addressed in other countries (and still do want to know). It is a lot easier to draw upon the experiences of other transport systems than to try and "reinvent the wheel" from scratch. When lobbying governments for change, it helps because they cannot say it can't be done if it is already being done somewhere else! I hope my post can go a little way towards encouraging others to seek equity for people with disabilities.
      What accessible transport services do you have in your region, Meredith?

  2. A wonderful post which a lot of people should read to understand!!

    Take care
    Anne (Crochet Between Worlds)

    1. Well, this is it, isn't it Anne? People need to become aware of these issues. I hope this blog entry will help to spread the word and contribute to the development of a more inclusive society.
      When people have a problem, more often than not, they know what is necessary to solve it but just need some help to get it solved so it is good practice to ask people what the problems are and what they need to fix them. Sadly, access to funding is often the barrier but do not underestimate the political will that is required too.