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TfL introduces new badges to help disabled passengers find seats

Disabled passengers will have an easier time finding a seat in the capital as Transport for London (TfL) unveils new ‘please offer me a seat’ badges.

Up to 1,000 people can volunteer for a six-week trial to test the effectiveness of the badges, which are intended to make it easier for passengers who are not obviously disabled to get a seat.

If the scheme is successful, passengers will be able to request the badges, which come with a card that can be shown to TfL staff.

Mike Brown MVO, London's transport commissioner, said: “We appreciate that asking for a seat on public transport can sometimes be difficult, particularly for customers who have hidden disabilities or conditions.

“That is why we are launching this trial, and if it is successful we will work closely with older and disabled people's organisations to develop the final product. I hope that Londoners help make the trial a success and offer their seat to someone with one of the badges or cards who may be in need.”

TfL research shows that passengers are less likely to offer priority seating to other passengers whose disabilities or medical conditions aren’t immediately visible.

Passengers who were pregnant or elderly had a 93% chance of being offered a seat, but just 59% of passengers with less visible mobile disabilities, 46% of passengers with learning difficulties and 44% of passengers with hidden illnesses were offered seats.

Passengers reported having to travel at off-peak times or take a longer route to be sure of getting a seat.

London civil servant James McNaught designed a ‘Cancer on board’ badge for fellow patients after he struggled to get a seat when using the Tube on his way to and from radiotherapy treatment for throat cancer, which left him unable to speak.

McNaught, who will now be one of the passengers trialling the badges, said: “Getting a seat on transport when you need it can sometimes be really tricky, especially if the reason you need to sit down isn't obvious to others.

“When I was undergoing radiotherapy for throat cancer, it meant I couldn't talk to ask for a seat and the morphine I was taking made me appear drunk. It was a real struggle to get people to understand why I needed to sit down. I'm really pleased TfL is doing this trial. A badge and card could help make a real difference to the lives of people undergoing drug treatment or with longer term conditions or disabilities.”

The badges are not the first initiative to help disabled passengers in London. In 2012, TfL introduced a Travel Support card, on which disabled and elderly passengers can write their special needs and emergency contact numbers to show to staff.

In 2005, TfL launched a ‘baby on board’ badge to help pregnant women get a seat on public transport. It now issues around 310,000 a year.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said he hopes the new blue badges can make a real difference to those who find it difficult to get a seat when they need one, particularly those with hidden disabilities.

“Everyone who travels around London knows about the success of the Baby on Board badges,” he added. “I want Londoners to embrace our new trial and help these blue badges become as instantly-recognisable, giving confidence to those wearing them on public transport across London.”

The railway network is becoming more and more accessible for disabled passengers, with disabled person’s railcards and disability accessible rolling stock both increasing.

Network Rail has launched a new campaign, with comedian Francesca Martinez, to end the industry’s ‘bolt-on’ approach to disability access.

It’s important, as the TfL campaign shows, that this access applies to people who don’t fit the stereotypical idea of a disabled person. However, it is also important to bear passenger safety in mind.

According to data from the Crown Prosecution Service, prosecutions for hate crime against disabled people in general rose by 41.3% in the past year. It was also revealed last week that race hate crimes are on the increase on British rails. It’s vital that this new initiative is supported by TfL’s campaign against hate crime in order to ensure that disabled passengers feel able to ask for the seats they need.

(Image c. TfL)

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