Stagecoach North Scotland employees have become the latest to take part in a vital training session as part of the bus operator’s pledge to make its services more accessible to blind and partially sighted people.
The company which operates throughout Aberdeenshire, Buchan, Moray and the Highlands will today hold a ‘swap-with-me’ event with drivers and passengers.
Stagecoach North Scotland previously signed a charter from sight loss charity RNIB that commits it to meeting the needs of passengers with a visual impairment.
This includes approaching bus stops more slowly so people have time to make out the number and route, not pulling away from stops before passengers with sight loss have found a seat, and letting them know when they arrive at their destination.
At today's event at Aberdeen Bus Station, drivers will don special 'sim specs' that simulate different eye conditions and experience first-hand the barriers that blind and partially sighted passengers face when travelling, while people with sight loss will get a chance to sit upfront in the cab and engage with those boarding the bus from the driver’s perspective.
Stagecoach North Scotland has 343 buses servicing 252 routes across North Scotland.
Mark Whitelocks, managing director for Stagecoach North Scotland, said: "We want to make it as easy and safe as possible for people who are blind and partially sighted to use our services here in North Scotland.
“Things that we may all take for granted, such as buying a bus ticket and getting on and off at the right stop can be a challenging and nerve-racking experience for somebody who has lost or partially lost their sight.
“Our employees play an important part in ensuring that blind and partially sighted people receive the assistance they require to make public transport an easy and pleasant experience.
“We are delighted to participate in the 'Swap with me' event at Aberdeen Bus Station so that our employees can experience first-hand the practical issues faced by blind and partially sighted people."
James Adams, deputy director of RNIB Scotland, said: "It's great news that Stagecoach North Scotland has embraced our campaign. Bus travel can be a life-line for blind and partially sighted people, who rely on buses more than most because they are unable to drive and taxis are too expensive for everyday journeys. But many of our members say they sometimes have difficulty in using some services.
"We think if drivers are more aware of the problems people with sight loss face they will take that extra bit of time to ensure they can make their journey confidently."
Pamela Munro, community engagement officer for Guide Dogs Scotland, said: “We are pleased that Stagecoach North Scotland is encouraging its drivers to have more awareness of the needs of its passengers who have assistance dogs. Their independence and confidence when travelling will be increased if drivers have a better understanding and respond in the right fashion.”
There are around 170,000 people in Scotland with significant sight loss, a number likely to increase in the next two decades due to our ageing population.