I swore loudly as yet another train that I was on heading into London changed destination, this time heading to Kings Cross instead of Moorgate in East London.
I suppose I knew something was up as the tannoy crackled with a non-descript voice making an announcement as we arrived in one of the stops, Finsbury Park. A couple of people looked cross and got off when we pulled in.
But the thing is, I’m unable to make out the announcement as the quality of the sound is extremely poor and all I can hear is garbled sounds through my hearing aid and cochlear implant. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those with more profound hearing loss or even people who use British Sign Language!
This change of destination happens more than you think judged by the time I was living in North London. So, why is it just more than an inconvenience?
- I would have to pay further for a tube journey from Kings Cross to Old Street thus this change of destination has cost me money.
- It ate into my commute time so my employers wouldn’t be happy if I turned up late.
- More importantly, that service isn’t accessible for people with hearing loss causing me stress.
Yes, stress. The silent killer. You may think I’m overdramatising, but everyday as we pulled into Finsbury Park, I would scan the departure board as quick as I can if I could see it from the train window or run off the train to find one only to realise that this time it is still going into Moorgate. But I’ve lost my seat and I’ve somehow got to wedge myself in the packed commuter train.
It’s like Russian Roulette.
There’s only one simple solution I knew that could change everything. Just put in some display boards inside the train and as the announcement is made over the tannoy, why not display it on screens as well?
This would really reduce my stress levels for sure, reduce the damage to my wallet and make my employers happy.
But that’s just one service. (Thankfully, I have moved since and I don’t have to deal with this anymore.)
What about UK or British trains in general? Are they deaf aware?
As someone who uses the train on a really frequent basis, here are some of the things I encounter:
Lack of staff on platforms
When there’s an update announcement on the platform, I often scan around to find a staff member to interpret to me what’s been said. But unless you’re at a major station, you’d be lucky to find one. So, sometimes I hesitantly board the train wondering if I’m actually where I am going or I’m stood there like an idiot when the train is actually calling at a different platform.
Like above, if there’s no staff on, and a platform announcement is made, I usually scan the others to find out what’s happening. Recently, as an announcement was made, people started running like crazy. I didn’t know what it was all about… was it an emergency or a platform change? I had no choice but to follow. Luckily, it was a platform change after breathlessly asking another person where this train was going as I clambered aboard. What would have happened if I didn’t follow? I would have stood on that platform for ages…
I can see a lot of train stations have loop systems fitted. Well done! But the electrical whine of the overhead power cables distorts through. When I’m on the train, I get a persistent noise through my neckloop or ear hooks when I’m listening to music, which irritates me immensely, particularly when I want to listen to ABBA.
Check out what hearing loop systems mean here: Hearing Support Systems
The ticket man
It’s got a lot better now but there is a lack of deaf awareness among ticket inspectors. If I’m staring out at the window, I usually get a tap on the shoulder jolting me from my deep reverie. As I fumble for my tickets from my wallet, I cannot hear them talk to me above the noise from the train and there’s a lot of misunderstandings until we get to where we want to be. They speak quietly, sometimes not looking at me as they search for other passengers, which makes it harder to hear them.
No display screens
I’ve mentioned this before but this is pretty common on ‘older’ trains. Some new trains have display screens already telling you where we are going, what’s the next destination is and arrival times for each stop. But it doesn’t tell you if your train is delayed, the reasons why or changing of destinations etc. The ‘older’ trains simply doesn’t have them to communicate with me what’s happening so it’s pure lucky guesswork for me.
Some train stations have broken loops particularly at ticket desks. Amid the noise and bustle of the train station, how am I expected to hear clearly the customer service assistant through the ticket window? And don’t get me started on the ticket desks at major train stations that have no loops. At all.
What would happen if there was an emergency on the train? Make an announcement? How would I be able to hear?
Travelling can be stressful. I mean, holidaymakers say the stressful part of their holiday is travelling to and back from the destination. So, how are deaf people and those with hearing loss are expected to deal with the stress?
Perhaps we should make an announcement… oh wait…
So what can be done to help improve UK trains to be deaf friendly?
Under the Equality Act 2010, organisations has a duty to make reasonable adjustments that are made to ensure disabled people can access the following:
- goods and services like shops, banks, cinemas, hospitals, council offices, leisure centres
- associations and private clubs like the Scouts and Guides, private golf clubs and working men clubs.
Organisations must take positive steps to remove the barriers you face because of your disability and ensure you receive the same services, as far as possible, as someone who’s not disabled.
So here are two options that train companies can undertake to ensure people who have deafness or hearing loss can be supported on their train journeys:
- Deaf Awareness Training – for train and station staff, they can really improve their customer service and enable them to communicate more effectively with 1 in 6 people in the UK that has a hearing loss. (Action on Hearing Loss, Hearing Matters Report 2015)
- Hearing Support Systems loop installation services – whether it is a survey or a maintenance visit, technicians will be able to routinely monitor if your hearing loop systems are working and fix issues too.
And more importantly, train companies are now listening.
I had the utmost pleasure of travelling with Transpennine Express on a journey between Manchester and Hull when the food trolley came to me as soon as we left the station. The attendants pushing the trolley, recognising my hearing loss, immediately went above and beyond to make my journey as smooth as possible. Not only did she face me directly and explaining what’s on offer in a friendly, clear and concise manner ensuring that I understood, she also came back to me every time there was an announcement over the tannoy to relay what has been said (without any prompt from me), also to make sure I understood what had been said. There was no fuss, there was no patronising manner, just a simple conversation between two people. I could have kissed her for it. It really helped my two hour journey to be as relaxing and stress free as possible. And what’s more, thanks to her awesome service, I would prefer to go on Transpennine Express again if I ever make the same journey.
So, why has this happened? Simples. They have regular deaf awareness training for their staff as per in their policy and practice guidelines in making rail accessible: Check out their guide here.
So, simple awareness and upkeep of assistive technology equipment can go such a long way of improving the travel journeys for those who have deafness or hearing loss, which makes up 11 million people of the UK’s population.
So how about it, train companies? We’re listening.