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Using public transport

Focus: School Years

Topic: Living Skills

Marian van Amerongen

Bartiméus Education Centre.

Marten van Doorn

Bartiméus Education Centre

1. Introduction

Many children are used to being taken by car from home to the place they want to go to. But for blind and partially sighted children it is absolutely essential that they learn how to use public transport. After all, at some point in the future they will have to rely on trains and buses. In our ever-changing society it is particularly important for these children to learn a few basic skills at a young age and gain knowledge and experience of using public transport. It is the task of parents and instructors to allow children to acquire experience on public transport. Children often regard travelling by bus or by train as a treat, but it soon becomes a dire necessity for them.

2. The structure of the travelling by public transport programme

At Bartiméus young students have regular outings with experienced instructors to help them become familiar with travelling by bus and by train. The public transport programme is structured as follows: first a demonstration, then the child is accompanied and finally he or she travels alone. First the child goes with the instructor to check out the station; essential items like the ticket counters, the platforms, the track, the escalator, the bus stop, etc. are talked about. Other more general things are also covered, such as what the track looks like, how the barrier works, what the suction force of an express train feels like, etc. It is important for the visually impaired to be able to read pictograms, train timetables, etc. Other important aspects are that the child learns to ask for and refuse help and that he or she knows how to react if something goes wrong.

The child then makes a trip, initially accompanied. It is important to prepare well for the journey, so things to think about include what do I need to take with me, which route do I plan and how, etc. The first few trips are made at a quiet time of the day, but later also in peak periods. Changing buses or trains is also practised. To sum up briefly: how do I get to my destination safely and effectively? The child will become increasingly independent and will eventually want to travel alone, initially taking a fixed route from home to school or from school to the training centre.

3. Travelling by bus (Noordwijk to Leiden)

Let’s take as an example the trip from here (Noordwijkerhout) to Amsterdam. The first step is to take the bus from Noordwijkerhout to Leiden.

* Preparing for the journey

What do I take with me?

Money in a handy purse or wallet, a bus and tram card with sufficient stubs (‘strips’) for the journey, a watch, a ‘companion pass’ (a free travelcard for a disabled person’s companion), possibly binoculairs for the visually impaired, a mobile phone. At school the journey is mapped out, including times.

For this you can use the national telephone number for travel information (0900-9292). You can also consult the bus timetable. Then the journey begins.

* Finding the bus stop and waiting for the bus

It is important for the child to know which number of bus to get and in which direction the bus goes (in other words which side of the road to wait). The bus stop where you get on the bus to go to the station is not the same as the stop where you get off coming from the station, since they are on opposite sides of the road. This is difficult for blind children to grasp. It is important for the child to wait at the bus stop, standing near the kerb, his or her cane clearly visible. The bus and tram card should also be close to hand.

* Hailing the bus

If the child cannot read the number on the front of the bus, he or she should hail every bus. When the driver opens the door the child should ask which bus it is before getting on.

* Boarding the bus and finding a seat

While boarding the bus the child should have his or her cane and bus and tram card in one hand and hold onto the bar with the other to help him or her climb the steps. The child tells the driver where he or she wants to go and the driver stamps the bus and tram card. The driver is also asked to shout out when the bus gets to the right stop. The child can ask the driver where there is a free seat or look for a place somewhere in the driver’s line of vision. The child should feel the armrest of each seat with the back of his or her hand to find out whether it is occupied. Once the child has sat down, it is important to remain alert so that he or she knows when it is time to get off the bus.

* Getting off the bus

When the driver calls out the child’s stop, the child presses the button to indicate that he or she wishes to get off. After getting off the bus the child must immediately take a couple of steps forward to avoid getting in the way.

4. Travelling by train (Leiden to Amsterdam)

* Preparing for the journey

The preparations for a train journey are the same as for a bus trip.

* Buying a ticket

There are three possible ways of buying a ticket:

1) If you have a disabled person’s companion pass, you may buy a ticket on the train from the ticket collector.

2) At the station there are automatic ticket machines where you can buy a ticket. This only applies to the visually impaired.

3) At the ticket counter. It is important for the child to join the back of the queue of people at the ticket counter and maintain contact with the person in front using his or her cane.

When it is the child’s turn to be served, he or she says what kind of ticket is required (destination, first or second class, return or single). Once the child has been given the ticket and any change, he or she pushes everything to one side to make room for the next person in the queue. The child now has time to put everything away. The child should have calculated how much change was due, based on the price of the ticket and the amount handed over. The child should also ask at the ticket counter where and when his or her train is due to depart.

* Finding the platform and waiting for the train

A partially sighted person can usually find the right platform by reading the pictograms or using the tactile paving. Without tactile paving, a blind person has to rely on the help of the public. Once on the platform, it is important to find out whether the right train is already there or is due in shortly. This can be done by keeping track of the departure time and by asking fellow travellers or, if possible, by reading the signs above the platform. While waiting for the train to arrive the child should stand four big steps back from the edge of the platform and listen to the trains approaching. When an express train races past, the child should step back a bit further.

* Boarding the train and finding a seat

Once the train has come to a complete stop, the child should listen to find out where the doors are opening and where people are getting in and out. The child should make contact with the train using his or her cane and walk towards the door. It is advisable to ask for help at this stage, especially in busy stations. While boarding the train, mind the gap between the train and the edge of the platform. Students have been known to lose their footing and end up between the train and the platform. Once on the train the child should look for the right type of compartment. It is important that the child should be familiar with the interior of a train and know the difference between first and second class. In the case of a double-decker train the child should know that it is possible to sit either upstairs or downstairs. During the journey the child should pay attention to any announcements made, maintain contact with other passengers to find out which station the train is arriving at and keep track of the time. The child should also have his or her ticket handy in case the ticket collector wants to check it.

* Getting off the train

Just before the train arrives at the destination, the child should walk towards the exit so as to be the first to leave the train. Stopping times at stations are usually quite short. This has the advantage that the child can ask for help and can move with the crowd of people streaming towards the station exit.

5. Finally

It is important for the child or young person to continue travelling regularly after training has come to an end, as situations change all the time. Despite all the instruction and training, it is inevitable that the child will get into situations where he or she has to rely on help from others. Often this is considered to be very annoying (seeing people can find everything for themselves, can’t they?).

It makes blind and partially sighted people feel dependent. Instructors should anticipate this. After all, what’s learnt in the cradle lasts till the tomb, as the saying goes.

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