The Go-Ahead Group (LON: GOG) today announces the nationwide roll out of its award-winning disability initiative, Helping Hand, as it seeks to break down accessibility barriers across the UK’s public transport network.

The scheme helps passengers communicate their disabilities to bus drivers through an accessibility card, co-created with users and charity groups. The card removes the need for customers to verbally explain their disability, which often causes discomfort and anxiety around using public transport.

The card is pioneering, unique, simple to use and discreet. It is designed to address the fact that many disabilities are not immediately obvious. Rather than labelling a customer’s condition, bespoke messages on the cards focus on the type of help needed such as:

·         Please be patient if I’m confused
·         Please wait until seated
·         Please speak clearly, I lip read
·         Help count my change
·         Please lower the step
·         Priority seating required

The cards are also suitable for people with a wide range of accessibility needs – including those living with conditions such as cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, dementia or autism, and passengers who are partially sighted or hard of hearing.

About 7% of children in the UK are living with a disability, with the figure rising to almost one in five working adults (18%) and 44% of pensioners according to disability charity Scope.

The Helping Hand card has been successfully piloted at Brighton & Hove Buses – a company renowned for its ground-breaking accessibility initiatives. Following its roll-out across the Go-Ahead Group, Helping Hand will be available to more than 800,000 passengers taking journeys every day.

Go-Ahead is one of the UK’s largest regional bus operators with services across the UK including buses in Newcastle, Plymouth, East Anglia, Oxford and along the south coast. The card is unbranded so it can be used on other operators’ services. It is made of sturdy plastic and it is printed in bold black type on a high-visibility yellow background – colours recommended by groups representing partially sighted people.

The roll-out of the card comes as the Department for Transport examines options to improve the accessibility of public transport in the wake of the recent Bus Services Bill. Go-Ahead has made the design of the card, and its expertise in this area, available to ministers.

All Go-Ahead drivers are trained in assisting people living with dementia or those who are blind and partially sighted. Buses also have ramps for wheelchairs as standard.

Go-Ahead Group’s chief executive David Brown says: “For many disabled people, having access to user-friendly public transport can give them the independence and freedom to take control of their own lives. By introducing an accessibility card across our network, we are sending a clear message to our customers that we want them to feel comfortable and safe using our services.”

Victoria Garcia, Go-Ahead’s senior accessibility advisor, adds: “This initiative was born out of exhaustive countrywide research. Our goal is to empower passengers to feel confident in taking public transport. We found that many of the existing schemes intended to improve accessibility amounted to flimsy cardboard, DIY messages either handwritten by customers or run off on a computer.

“We were clear that we wanted to focus on the type of help required, rather than the details of the customer’s condition. Our unbranded card is already being used across bus operators, in shops, in cinemas and even on the continent. We’re very proud of this initiative and we hope that it will be adopted widely across the country.”

The pioneering initiative was awarded gold status at the UK Bus Awards 2016 for the Bus and Community category.

The Helping Hand scheme will now be available across Go-Ahead’s comprehensive network, including Brighton & Hove, MetroBus, konect, Headingham and Chambers, Go North East, Salisbury Reds, Morebus, Thamesdown, Bluestar, Southern Vectis, MetroBus, Oxford Bus Company and Plymouth Citybus.