Highways England signs up to new disability help

23/09/2020
Chris Ames

Highways England is introducing new resources to make it easier for people with disabilities to use its network.

It said disabled drivers represent 5% of the driving population.

One service will help Deaf people communicate with the government-owned company using signing, while the other sees the introduction of access guides to help explain the facilities offered at motorway service areas.

Highways England announced the new services on Wednesday (23 September), the International Day of Sign Languages.

In 2018 it established the Roads for All Forum, bringing together organisations that represent, or provide services to, disabled road users.

Customer service director Mel Clarke said: ‘We always encourage everyone to plan their journeys before setting off and appreciate that for some people this isn’t as easy as for others.

‘That’s why we’re launching new services, to break down barriers and help people reliably plan and feel confident about their journeys. We’ll continue our work to improve facilities in collaboration with the expertise of the Roads for All Forum members.’

Guy Dangerfield, head of strategy at watchdog Transport Focus, said: ‘We know that driving gives disabled road users vital independence, but the lack of relevant information in suitable formats can make planning a journey very difficult.

‘It is good to see Transport Focus recommendations being taken on board to make it easier for all road users to plan journeys and get assistance when they need it.’

Highways England’s new contact service allows anyone who is a British Sign Language (BSL) user to use SignLive to contact its Customer Contact Centre, which supports road users 24 hours a day, providing journey planning advice, information about roadworks and traffic conditions, and assistance to people who have broken down and need help.

The free SignLive service connects deaf users with an online professional BSL interpreter, who will contact Highways England on their behalf and translate the conversation between them and a Highways England advisor.

An estimated 150,000 people in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL) as their main or sole means of communication.

Joel Kellhofer, director at SignLive, said: ‘SignLive are delighted to be working with Highways England to make the organisation more accessible for the Deaf community. They provide a vital service and we’re happy that British Sign Language users can get in touch more easily.’

Highways England has also joined up with AccessAble, which provides accessibility information on thousands of venues across the UK and Ireland via a free app, to include information on motorway services areas in England.

Over 100 service areas on England’s motorway network will be surveyed to determine the accessibility of key areas including parking, toilets, petrol stations, shops and restaurants.

The first survey took place at Watford Gap on 5 August, with all 113 Access Guides due to launch in early 2021.

Virtual Access Guides will also be created. This new type of guide, which uses 360-degree imagery, will enable people to travel the route to facilities like accessible toilets and changing places.

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