Guidance for bus staff
It remains the case during the pandemic that under equality legislation service providers, including transport operators, have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities.
Covid-19 has forced many changes in the way we do things, including how and when we travel. For many people, particularly those who are blind or partially sighted, these changes will create new challenges especially as they rely on public transport to get to work, appointments or to meet family and friends.
We have created this guidance to ensure drivers and other staff working to support bus travel can feel confident when helping passengers with sight loss, while maintaining social distancing and other measures that are in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
- Not everyone with vision impairment is totally blind, many retain some useful sight. Some will use a guide dog or a cane, many will travel without a mobility aid and so it may not always be apparent that they have sight loss.
- Just like anyone else, people with sight loss will have personal preferences in how they receive support so ensure that you ask them what help they would like.
- If assisting a guide dog owner, do not interfere with the dog and only give instructions to its owner.
- As many people with sight loss have some useful vision, wearing a high visibility jacket or tabard may be helpful for many customers with sight loss as it could make it easier for them to differentiate you from others, especially in a crowded bus station.
- Probably the most important thing you should do is to ensure that passengers have all the information they need to be able to prepare for and to successfully complete their journey. Clear communication is key.
- Although it is mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings when using public transport, some people with certain medical conditions or impairments are exempt from this requirement. This may include people with sight loss.
We recommend using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when assisting someone with sight loss, as it may be necessary to be closer to them than the recommended two metres.
Practical things that drivers and other staff can do
- All passengers benefit from next stop and route information in audio and visual format. Those with sight loss depend on it. Ensure that audio visual announcement systems are working and switched on. Please ensure audio announcements are loud enough for passengers at the back or those with reduced hearing to hear; consider background noise when setting the volume level.
- At the bus stop pull right up to the kerb to help vision impaired passengers avoid tripping. If parked further out into the road the step is effectively higher and the door can be harder to find.
- Say hello and state the bus number and destination especially if the bus does not have audio visual announcements onboard. This will also help the vision impaired passenger to know that they have your attention. Ask if they will need to be informed when the bus is approaching their destination and if they need to you alert them when theirs is the next stop.
- Some passengers may need support when paying the fare. If they use a smartcard or contactless payment method, it may be difficult or impossible for them to find the scanner. Under normal circumstances it could make it easier if the driver was to scan the card on their behalf. But given social distancing requirements you may need to give them verbal directions. E.g. ‘it’s to the right of your left hand and further forward’.
- People with sight loss will often have difficulty finding a seat. During the pandemic, and when it is possible that some seats are blocked off it will be even harder for them to do so. Please ask the passenger if they need help identifying a vacant seat and that is a safe distance from other passengers.
- Please describe where the seat is – for example “the first row of seats facing forward on the right” or, “the seventh row of seats on your left. There is a step up just before you get there.”
- Please note, a guide dog owner is likely to require a priority seat to ensure the dog has enough space to lie down away from the footfall of other passengers (e.g. not in the aisle). In the event of a pet owner and an assistance dog owner both wanting to travel, their dogs should be kept apart, ideally with the pet dog accommodated towards the back of the bus.
- Please ensure that the passenger is seated safely before moving off.
- Bus drivers will always prioritise the safety of all their passengers, but it is essential that vision impaired passengers are able to get off the bus at the correct stop. It can be frustrating and disorientating for a vision impaired passenger to miss their bus stop but this could be even more of an issue during the pandemic as changes to normal road and pavement layouts may be brought in to facilitate social distancing. Added to which, people may find it difficult to ask the general public for help when dropped off at an unfamiliar location.
Effective communication hints and tips
When speaking with a person with sight loss, be yourself and speak naturally and clearly. You should also consider the following tips:
- Always introduce yourself and inform the person of your name and job title.
- Ask the person if they would like any assistance.
- Continue to use normal body language. This will positively affect the tone of your voice and provide extra information to the person who is vision impaired.
- Don’t be afraid to use everyday language.
- Always speak directly to the person with sight loss (the customer) not anyone else they may be with.
- When verbally guiding a person (for instance at a bus station), ask them if they would like you to walk ahead of them, behind or on their left or right (2 metres distance when possible). Their preference may allow them to use any remaining vision.
- When helping guide dog owners to get around, some guide dog owners will prefer you to go ahead (their dog will be able to follow you) whereas others may prefer to go in front with you giving them directions from behind. As with other vision impaired passengers, just ask them what they would prefer.
- In areas with restricted space where it is necessary to walk single-file (for instance in the aisle of a bus), it is advisable to walk behind the person you are assisting so instructions can easily be heard. Don’t forget to let them know why you have moved.
- Ask the person if they are OK and that they can hear you. This includes checking to make sure that they are comfortable with the pace at which you are walking.
- Provide clear instructions when describing a route or when you would like the person to change direction e.g. left and right
- Describe the main features of an area: “The bus stand is on your right and there is an empty row of five seats available.” Or “The door to the bus is coming up on the left and there’s one person in front of us at the moment.”
- When walking always let the person know about differences in the floor surface including any slopes or steps up or down.
- If leaving someone with sight loss inform them of any obstacles nearby that could be trip hazards or that they could bump into - bollards, posts, benches or bins for example.
- Once you have and your passenger have arrived at the desired destination check to ensure they know where they are and ask them if they are OK to continue or if they need further assistance.
Ensure that your website or app and customer service staff taking telephone enquiries provides information about access to your services: including any protocols that have been introduced around social distancing. For example: Changes to how to board and get off buses; relocation of bus stops to support social distancing; any one-way systems introduced at bus stations to enhance passenger flow, and; queuing systems at ticket offices - especially important for customers who are familiar with the station but may be disorientated by changes to the layout and new ways of navigating the station.