'Welcome' Aboard!

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Today we’re announcing a new project that Go Upstream is leading, working with people with dementia to improve the experience of assisted rail travel.

Our project team was among the winners of The Rail Accessibility Competition, run by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), which awarded grants to organisations ‘... whose innovative ideas will make a difference to the lives of disabled passengers travelling on the railway’.

We hear some great stories about travelling by rail and services such as Passenger Assist can make a real difference for people who need help getting on and off trains and making connections. However, we’ve also heard stories about people not being met or assistance not being available. Circumstances can change quickly during a journey - disruption, delays, cancellations and bus replacement services can disrupt the support that Passenger Assist offers and a simple journey can become a complicated and anxious situation for passengers and staff alike.

We’re not the only ones. This Office of Rail and Road research, carried out over 4,000 interviews about the experience of Passenger Assist and found that passengers wanted better staff training about disability, reassurance that they will be met, revisions to the booking system and improved arrangements at the station.

Now, Go Upstream is all about better staff understanding and designing an improved service, but improving the system will need some technical input. Enter Neatebox, an Edinburgh-based company who have developed some brilliant technology in the form of the Welcome app, developed to enable people with disabilities to arrange personalised assistance at destinations such as offices and hotels.

So, we wondered, could ‘Welcome’ be used to enhance Passenger Assist and provide a more personalised experience of arranging and receiving support? And if we combine it with Go Upstream’s experiential training to improve staff knowledge of dementia, could we improve the assistance experience even further? Well maybe, but we won’t know for sure unless we work closely with people with the greatest expertise - people who live and travel with dementia. So we asked our friends at DEEP if some of the groups in its national network of people living with dementia might be partners in the project.

Of course, as passengers, we’re only one half of the assistance story. The teams who deliver the service are also full of experience and ideas. Who better to partner with than LNER, who operate east coast rail services on routes totalling 936 miles, from Inverness and Aberdeen to London and many places in between.

But wait, there’s more! We also need to ensure that we’re bringing everybody’s design skills into the mix and building a service that reflects everyone’s needs. So when we asked our friends Hazel and Mike at Open Change in Dundee if they would join in too, we were delighted when they said yes. Open Change are service design experts with a wealth of experience in helping groups to realise their design potential and build solutions together.

As Hazel says ‘Making public transport inclusive for everyone is a great opportunity - and a challenge’

It is indeed a challenge and I’m looking forward to taking it on with a brilliant team and the support of the competition organisers the RSSB. The ‘Welcome’ Aboard team not only brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm but we’re collectively on a mission to weave the expertise of people living with dementia into the development of new services.