Train operator Avanti West Coast has kickstarted a disability forum called ‘Accessible Rail Travel'. The initiative is the first of its kind in the industry and has been designed to provide a support network by connecting disabled customers who are planning or making a journey with the company.
The forum is to be led by a specialist social media team, as well as people who have a shared understanding of disability and rail travel.
It has been set up on Facebook, it looks to additionally build an interactive online community that aims to help disabled customers directly, giving them an opportunity to help others with the benefits of their experience.
The idea came from its Head of Social Content Emma Martell, who was inspired by her own personal experiences. She was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – a condition that makes connective tissue weaker - and found support by joining Facebook groups, which helped her to find ways to cope with some of the issues more practically.
Emma said: “We believe creating a sense of community with our customers through a private forum on social media can add real value for those who may need extra assistance. We want to both help them directly and enable them to help others, so everyone feels supported when planning or making a journey,”
“By connecting people who have a shared understanding we want to build a support network, where tips and experiences for journeys on our route can be exchanged. We hope this platform will help to improve the overall journey experience for disabled customers and encourage more people to travel by train.”
The social media team will be receiving further specialist training in viewing the world developed by disabled people – to help them recognize barriers that make life harder for disabled people.
Daniel Doherty, Community Manager at Facebook, said: “Over 35 million people in the UK use Facebook Groups every month as a powerful way to connect, share their interests, learn new things and support their communities. It’s great to see Avanti West Coast using this new Facebook Group to connect and offer support to their disabled customers as the world begins to open up, helping them to feel confident when travelling again.”
Tony Jennings, Co-Chair of Avanti West Coast’s external Accessibility Panel, said: “Accessible social media plays an important part in welcoming and reassuring disabled people back onto the railways and helps with journey planning, giving us the confidence to travel. I’m really looking forward to being involved with the group.”