Visually-impaired passengers swap with bus drivers

Sight Support Worthing and Stagecoach Worthing at the bus depot for the Swap With Me event. Picture: Derek Martin DM17629808a
Sight Support Worthing and Stagecoach Worthing at the bus depot for the Swap With Me event. Picture: Derek Martin DM17629808a

Bus drivers have been given the opportunity to experience first hand what it is like to travel as a passenger with sight difficulties.

Sight Support Worthing organised a Swap With Me event at the Stagecoach Worthing depot yesterday, which was attended by more than 20 visually-impaired members.

Jan Penn tries out the driver's seat on the bus DM17629820a

Jan Penn tries out the driver's seat on the bus DM17629820a

The idea was for drivers to use simulation specs to see what it is like to board a bus with eye problems and for the visitors to experience sitting in the driver’s cab on a bus.

Brian Butcher, voluntary campaign co-ordinator, organised the event after hearing bus travel was one of the biggest problems faced by Sight Support Worthing members.

He said: “Buses are so important if you are visually impaired, to keep your independence.

“Stagecoach is very keen to improve their disability awareness, particularly with visual impaired people. The best way to do that is to get people talking.”

Jan Penn, 67, has Stargardt disease, an inherited eye condition that is degenerative. She uses the bus regularly with her guide dog, Harry.

She was one of the first to try out the driver’s seat and said it was good experience.

Jan added: “I can’t fault the drivers, they are brilliant. They ask if I know where I am getting off and sometimes they will tell me where there is a spare seat.

“I have had a bus go past me when I was waiting at a stop but it might have had a reason. I can’t see it until the last minute.”

The visitors talked to drivers about the challenges they face on a daily basis when travelling on buses, something which many take for granted.

Rob Vince, operations manager for Worthing, said: “The Swap Me event is a great way to enhance our drivers’ training and continued development as well as forming a great partnership with the Sight Support charity.

“We hope it will give local people with visual impairments confidence when using Stagecoach services in the future.

“We have recently introduced a new training programme which features similar activities to support all our new drivers in assisting customers with visual and physical impairments. However we also hope to take many of our findings from the ‘live’ experience back to our regional training team to help develop future training programmes.

“We can learn from hearing one-to-one stories of people’s experience and we want to make sure this event is the catalyst for improvement. We want it to become the talk of the depot, bringing it to the forefront of drivers’ minds. Everyone needs to feel safe and comfortable in bus travel.”

Members were collected on a Stagecoach bus from the charity’s Rowlands Road headquarters. They were joined by Worthing deputy mayor Paul Baker and Sight Support Worthing HQ manager Frances Pritchard for the ride to the depot in Marine Parade.

Mrs Pritchard said “This Swap With Me event was held to demonstrate the barriers people with sight loss face when travelling on buses. It was an opportunity to share their experiences with drivers in an informal and relaxed setting.”