Blind and partially sighted volunteers increase accessibility in Bedfordshire

Blind and partially sighted volunteers are celebrating their work to increase the accessibility of transport in Bedfordshire, as the group celebrates its third birthday.
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Blind and partially sighted volunteers are celebrating their work to increase the accessibility of transport in Bedfordshire, using their lived experience of sight loss - as the group celebrates its third birthday.

Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council (SLC), led by blind and partially sighted (BPS) volunteers and funded by national charity Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT), works with organisations to ensure what they do is accessible and inclusive. It is one of over 20 SLCs operating regionally across the country.

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Since 2021, Bedfordshire volunteers have worked with transport providers to improve the customer journey. This includes through trialling new wayfinding apps, designing events specifically for BPS people to build their confidence to travel, and delivering multiple vision awareness sessions to ensure staff can best support their BPS customers.

Sight Loss Council volunteers, with SLC Engagement Manager Sam and her guide dog LizzieSight Loss Council volunteers, with SLC Engagement Manager Sam and her guide dog Lizzie
Sight Loss Council volunteers, with SLC Engagement Manager Sam and her guide dog Lizzie

They have also worked with Forest of Marston Vale, so BPS people can enjoy the park and grounds as much as their sighted peers. This includes through providing vision awareness sessions to staff and volunteers, so they can best understand how to support BPS customers.

Additionally, they also produced an audio described park map and brochures, supported by a research fellow from the University of Honolulu.

Phil Rutter, a founding member of Bedfordshire SLC, said:

“I am really proud of our work with Luton DART. On this project, we ensured the needs of blind and partially sighted passengers were prioritised. To do this, we contributed throughout the planning stage, the building program, some final adjustments prior to its opening, and trialled the service ahead of its launch. Being involved from the inception of this project ensured that the needs of blind and partially sighted people were considered within all stages of development."

Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council volunteers test the new Aira app at Stevenage stationBedfordshire Sight Loss Council volunteers test the new Aira app at Stevenage station
Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council volunteers test the new Aira app at Stevenage station
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Antony Merlyn, Accessibility Engagement Manager at Govia Thameslink Railway which has worked closely with Bedfordshire SLC, said: “Working in collaboration with local Sight Loss Councils and Thomas Pocklington Trust has enabled us to further understand the barriers that can be faced by blind and partially sighted people.

“This partnership has enabled us to explore potential solutions such as Aira. We are really grateful for the ongoing support provided by Sight Loss Councils and look forward to continuing this partnership.”

Lindsey Marriot - Head of Operational Training, Learning and Development, Ethos Farm, said: “When we met Samantha and Bedfordshire SLC, we knew they shared the same warmth and care toward improving inclusive service as we do.

“We asked Samantha to help us prepare our team to ensure they deliver the best possible inclusive service on the Luton DART transport system. They delivered a wonderful 3.5 hour vision awareness session and opened up the world of how blind and partially sighted people travel.

SLC members use tactile markings on the platform, whilst walking alongside the DART Shuttle train.SLC members use tactile markings on the platform, whilst walking alongside the DART Shuttle train.
SLC members use tactile markings on the platform, whilst walking alongside the DART Shuttle train.
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“The session was fun, insightful, and incredibly inspiring for our team. They benefitted enormously from the session, and it meant they had the confidence and competence to support people with sight loss from day one.

“As a result of this work, TPT and SLCs will deliver quarterly sessions for our teams at Heathrow, Westfield Shopping Centres, and Battersea Power Station. This has become one of our most sought after learning sessions and we look forward to working together over the coming years to improve understanding and support, and ensure we deliver an inclusive service to our guests.”

Andrew Wright – Founder and CEO, Accessible Travel Consultancy Services, added: "I personally want to wish Bedfordshire SLC a happy third birthday, with particular thanks to Samantha, Bedfordshire SLC, and her colleagues at Thomas Pocklington Trust.

“Their guidance and support has been invaluable to the London Luton Airport Accessibility Forum, and we have discussed many topics over the course of the year.

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"This has included improvements to our infrastructure, processes and procedures, and above all else, how to improve the customer journey for blind and partially sighted passengers.

“With support from Bedfordshire SLC, we will continue this valuable work to ensure the airport remains accessible and inclusive for all.”

Bedfordshire Sight Loss Council is looking for new volunteer members who live in the local area. If you are blind and partially sighted and want to improve services for visually impaired people, we want to hear from you.

You’ll get the opportunity to create positive change for others, meet like-minded people, have a voice, receive training and enhance your skills.

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Visit www.sightlosscouncils.org.uk/join-us for more details.

Alt text: From left to right, SLC volunteer members Eileen, Phil, Stefan, and Hubert, pictured with Sam and guide dog Lizzie. They are stood together next to SLC banners, all smiling at the camera.

Alt Text: Bedfordshire SLC members using tactile markings on the platform, whilst walking alongside the DART Shuttle train.

Alt Text: Members of Bedfordshire SLC are stood with Samantha Leftwich, Engagement Manager for East England. They are standing on a platform at Stevenage train station as part of the wayfinding app trial. They are all holding their smartphones in one hand, their long cane in the other.