“Disabled people are not always treated with the respect we deserve”
For those with learning disabilities, bus travel can be intimidating
Fred is 34 and has been using travelling with Lothian since he started secondary school. Like many young children, bus travel was an essential and familiar part of daily life.
Fred has a learning disability which meant that for his first few journeys he needed someone to accompany him on the bus. Once Fred was comfortable communicating with the driver and others on the bus, knowing where to get on and off the bus, he was left to make his own way unaccompanied.
Although travelling by bus is something he has been doing most of his life, he still feels anxious when boarding due to his disability.
“I’m very nervous about getting the bus, especially if it’s a new journey that I haven’t been on before,” says Fred.
Fred has a keen love of art and studied Creative Arts at college. It was at college that Fred grew more curious about buses, wanting to travel and explore more of his community and make new friends. He wanted to do what everyone else was doing, such as going out for meals or for drinks with his family. The bus was essential to this.
“Even in my walking group, we all get the bus to get to our starting point!” Fred jokes.
He has received community-based support from the Local Area Co-ordination Team (Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership) to travel, train and learn new routes, and become more comfortable getting the bus. In his support group, he has been working with a local area coordinator who has joined him on his journeys across the city, reminding him of the skills he learned when he was beginning high school.
“I’m trying to become more independent, because getting the bus and other life skills aren’t as easy for me as you’d think,” he says.
“The help has been a success. I became more confident and I’m able to get the bus independently most of the time.”
People First, a non-profit organisation, works with adults with a learning disability. Fred takes our buses to attend meetings with the group where they discuss self-advocacy, disabled people’s rights and equality.
“I believe everyone should be treated fairly,” says Fred. “Disabled people are not always treated with the respect we deserve.
“I’ve been a victim of bullying in education and work so, I know first-hand of the experiences folk go through.”
Fred believes that it’s a lack of understanding that can result in these issues, and that ignorance has a profound effect on people with a hidden disability.
“I wish people would be more kind.”
Travelling on buses, these issues can be magnified in a closed and confined space. Fred’s anxiousness when making a new journey can often lead to him feeling like he’d rather do anything else but board a bus. However, in his experience, Lothian’s drivers have been extremely helpful to him, as well as other disabled customers. “The drivers have been helpful, to the point that I’ve enjoyed most of my journeys on buses,” he says. “I see drivers helping other customers in wheelchairs or with walking sticks and that eases my mind.”
It’s not just the drivers that Fred appreciates about our buses. He uses his National Entitlement Card (NEC) to travel, which he loves.
“It gives me the freedom to travel around Scotland and see new things,” he says fondly.
He also notes that he finds the layout of Lothian’s buses to be very helpful, and that the signage on vehicles is clear and easy to understand. This all helps make the process of him getting from the pavement to the bus to his seat very easy.
“Getting on the bus is easy because of the clear signage on your buses, I know exactly where to scan my pass,” he adds.
However, Fred has had experiences that are less than pleasant. These mainly arose when the bus has been particularly busy, as he has difficulty communicating with people that he needs to get up or past them to leave the bus.
“It’s resulted in me missing my stop a few times,” Fred says. “I don’t think people noticed me trying to get off the bus.”
Fred has recently been learning to overcome the difficulty of temporary bus stops, as he feels uneasy when his regular bus stop is out of use due to roadworks. Despite conceding this is “part of Edinburgh life”, he struggles to be punctual if he has to make his way to another stop.
During the pandemic, Fred was able to adapt to wearing a face covering when travelling on buses. He found it confusing and challenging at first, especially due to his difficulty communicating with the driver and other customers.
“The signs reminding people to wear masks are useful,” says Fred, “as it avoids confrontation between drivers and other customers, making for a pleasant experience on buses.”
He has suffered anxious moments when contemplating whether to remove his mask temporarily to take a quick drink of water when he’s on the bus. He’s scared another customer or driver will spot him and ask him to leave the bus. Of course, it is perfectly acceptable for customers to take a drink if needed, and Fred feels reassured to know it’s acceptable.
When asked to sum up his experience of travelling on buses with a hidden disability, Fred is charmingly positive. His confidence on bus has grown immensely in recent years and he credits his work with his support group, as well as Lothian drivers and fellow customers. Due to the nature of hidden disabilities, people don’t know what he, and many others like him, are going through. For that reason, he has one piece of advice for his fellow customers: “If you see anyone looking a bit lost at a bus stop or on a bus, please be aware that person will appreciate you asking if they need help.”
Our thanks go to Fred for speaking about his experiences with us.
Lothian remains committed to providing an efficient, world class bus service for the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians. Within that commitment, we reiterate that our buses are accessible for everyone. We would like to remind customers that not all disabilities are visible, and for a variety of reasons some of our customers cannot wear a face mask during their essential journey. Please be kind and considerate while on our buses.
To learn more about the work of People First, visit their website.