Many people don’t appreciate being visually impaired also means being unable to drive, therefore much of a blind person’s ability to be independent relies on using public transport. This implies a level of assistance may be required from Rail staff; whether it is as simple as reading out what platform a particular train is on, or having to guide someone who is visually impaired through a busy train station, this can be the difference between a VI person feeling confident enough to travel or staying isolated at home. Indeed, complete way of life, including employment, can be affected by their experience of the public transport system.

Govia Thameslink Railway (the train operating company that operates Great Northern, Thameslink, Southern and Gatwick Express) recently took the decision to attempt to increase their front-line staff’s visual impairment awareness through Team Insight events. This was kicked off with four half day events between the 21st-28th June. Throughout these sessions, over 60 of their front-line staff participated and took up the challenge of putting themselves in the shoes of visually impaired people.

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It’s fair to say that each event began with a slight atmosphere of ‘I am not sure I want to be here, I bet it will be just the same old training we’ve all done a hundred times before’, but within minutes we could sense that we’d won them over and by the time we got to the refreshments break in each session, the groups were buzzing with enthusiasm and all sharing stories on the different ways they’ve assisted visually impaired people through their stations or how they’ve been amazed at the independence of VI’s they’ve met.

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At the end of each session we gave the option for the participants to fill in feedback forms – 39/44 completed forms gave 5/5’s for both their enjoyment of the day and for how much the event raised their visual impairment awareness.

Below is a brief selection of some of the comments made on the completed feedback forms:

“Thanks for giving me the opportunity to be part of such an ‘eye closing’ event. Learnt a lot about visual impairment”

“Thank you for opening my ears and mouth”

“The whole experience was great, very insightful considering I work with V.I.Ps (Visually Impaired People)”

“Probably the best course I have been on while working in the railway industry”

“I was very relaxed because of the friendly manner of the trainers”

“Made to feel that everyone was important”

Stuart Cheshire, Passenger Service Director said afterwards “This was a truly cracking course that helped our stations staff get first-hand experience of what it is like to be visually impaired. We do our very best to help everyone travel with us, whatever their abilities or impairments”

Not only did the GTR staff actively participate with all of the activities, but during their break, and indeed after the event had finished, many took the opportunity to try on simulation spectacles, try using a white can and asked us many insightful questions on visual impairment. We were delighted with so many assurances that this was one event that would truly influence them moving forward in their working life.

You can see more of what GTR had to say about the events on their website.

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