1A meeting of minds has taken place between bus operator Stagecoach and Gateshead author Jo Milne on a new disabilities campaign. They have launched an innovative and unique campaign to improve awareness of hidden disabilities such as sensory loss, chronic pain and mental health – especially when using buses and trains.

Author Milne became a household name after undergoing surgery to have cochlear implants fitted. The world witnessed the beautiful and emotional moment of her hearing for the first time in 40 years on YouTube, where it instantly went viral.

Milne has Usher Syndrome, and with many of the video’s viewers unaware of the reason for the implants, she has been campaigning to improve awareness of hidden disabilities, such as deafblindness. Her condition means that she is now losing her sight, so she understands the challenges other people face, and approached Stagecoach to addresses this.

On the Stagecoach North East news and events page, Milne comments:

“I myself have faced challenges on public transport and there’s still a long way to go regarding hidden disability. I’ve always believed the general public and public transport staff aren’t being ignorant or hurting our feelings, it’s because they simply don’t know. Once someone is aware, it stays with them and people are very keen to understand if companies teach them.”

The challenges for those with hidden disabilities when using public transport are associated with the public’s disbelief at them using aids such as white cane, but also reading a newspaper – something Milne herself has experienced. The concept of not ‘looking’ unwell, and the nature of a hidden disability chronic illness or mental health problems, is what causes distress and can be a daily challenge.

When Stagecoach North East and Milne began working together, they began by showing Milne how drivers were trained to understand hidden disabilities and their impact on people’s travel. She then offered support in improving awareness to accompany existing Stagecoach’s existing driver induction programme and on-going training. The ‘Challenging Perceptions’ campaign then began.

‘Challenging Perceptions’ uses eye-catching posters, asking drivers not to judge customers on what they see. The campaign is internal, so the posters will be displayed around the company’s six north east depots. The posters themselves focus on three of the main types of hidden disability; sensory (sight and hearing problems), anxiety disorders and chronic pain conditions.

The campaign was launched in Stagecoach’s Walkergate bus depot in Newcastle upon Tyne. Paul Bradley, Stagecoach North East Training and Development Manager commented on the Stagecoach North East news and events page:

“Our training has been developed to help our drivers understand the challenges faced by many of our customers every day. When Jo got in touch, we could see real value in using her experiences and expertise to help us devise an original, creative and high impact campaign to serve as a prominent reminder of this training.”