Aberdeen: taking the first journey together

Description: signage on the way to the ferry terminal

Description: signage on the way to the ferry terminal

Two workshops down and feeling ready to try our first Making Connections journey, Go Upstream headed to Aberdeen, where we met the rest of our group. After initially fearing that high winds might mean the outdoor part of our planned connection might need to be abandoned, the sun shone and we were glad to see all groups complete their journeys using the feedback materials to record lots about their experiences. The day was also a learning process for us - we picked up quite a bit about how our information-collecting methods could be improved and changed to better reflect the on-site reality of multitasking!

Before undertaking our journey, we met at Aberdeen train station for a briefing. Thanks to ScotRail we had exclusive use of the first-class lounge, and took the opportunity to grab some coffee and Orkney fudge as we introduced everyone, discussed the journey packs we’d be using to record our experiences, and made sure that all participants were aware of the plan for the day. Sorted into groups of between five and eight people, we then headed out to make our connection...

Our group put a slight focus on the particular challenges that someone who is Deaf and/or living with dementia might face when making the train-boat connection, so here is one account of our journey. It definitely doesn’t cover everything noted - we filled six pages! - but gives an idea of some issues found along the way.

Beginning our journey in the main concourse of the train station, we immediately hit a barrier due to the lack of immediate signage showing us where to go. On investigation, we found various different signs around the site, but there were some inconsistencies with presentation: different sizes and different fonts, sometimes too small.

Our group thought that it would be good to have more signage, including information on departing trains directly by where you board the trains, like at Glasgow Central station. It would also be easier to read if it was at a height closer to eye level. Although it wouldn’t help everyone, some members of the group raised the possibility of using different colours on signage to help people identify routes: for example red for boat, yellow for taxi. A similar system could also be used on the floor – helping guide people who need help with the use of different colours, as often used in hospitals.

We walked around the train station, struggling to find the lift - it could be better signposted. We noted steps in the station that could be a barrier for multiple reasons. There are contrasts in surface colour and texture which can cause problems for people with dementia.

Description: Recording our thoughts on floors, surfaces and surface changes that can create challenges for people with dementia and others.

Description: Recording our thoughts on floors, surfaces and surface changes that can create challenges for people with dementia and others.

We took a right turn out of the station, heading into the Union Square shopping centre.

There were several positive things we noted about the environment of the shopping centre – it was well-lit which made some members of the group feel safe, and there were places we could sit down.

Description: The group discusses and records their thoughts on signage

Description: The group discusses and records their thoughts on signage

We walked through the main passage of the shopping centre, hoping that we were heading towards the ferry.

Again we had a bit of trouble navigating the signage. There was an accessible toilet on our route, but the sign for it was very high, meaning that some of our group walked past it. There was also a lot of visual noise on the nearby wall which made it harder to notice.

We also took a while to notice the signs directing us to the ferry – it’s great these exist but they could be a bit clearer and bigger. They show a boat from the front, rather than the more conventional side view.

Taking a left to exit the shopping centre, we then followed a path along the side of the building, to the edge of the main road.

Outside the shopping centre, our group was glad to see the big NorthLink sign directing us to the ferry and naming where the ferry was going, which we found reassuring. We were initially unsure which area of the harbour we were headed for, as there are lots of boats visible and people who haven’t travelled with Northlink may not know what they are sailing on. We thought that putting symbols on bollards to guide people to the ferry and also mark the safe path more clearly would help us towards the right area.

We liked the idea of there being a guide that gave distance estimates – symbols and a map would aid those with disabilities – as then we would know how much time we had. This could be really helpful if we were worried about being late!

There is a help post along the route towards the harbour from the shopping centre, but there is no alternative available for Deaf people. Our group was not able to use it.

This area is exposed to the elements, and we were making the journey on a very windy day, so this had an impact on our experience.

We crossed the main road in two stages, stopping at a crossing island in the middle. Once on the other side, we took a right, walking towards the harbour beside a tall fence.

Description: a busy road crossing involved in making the connection

Description: a busy road crossing involved in making the connection

We all felt quite anxious as we approached the busy road to cross. The crossing was a barrier, as it was unsuitable and stressful. We could not find a cone underneath the button that would alert people with visual impairments as to when they could cross. We also had to wait for a very long time between crossings – so long that we wondered if the crossing was still working. We noticed several people running across the road rather than waiting, but the traffic was very fast, with lots of big lorries, so we didn’t feel safe doing this.

Once we had crossed, the path was very narrow – not suitable for people to walk alongside one another or for wheelchair users.

Description: The group considers a road crossing and surfaces on the way to the harbour.

Description: The group considers a road crossing and surfaces on the way to the harbour.

The path curves round to the left, leading us towards the Northlink terminal. There are a couple of openings to the left that we had to pass.

We noticed that surfaces were uneven, with different materials used. The unevenness of the surfaces meant that there were lots of puddles, which people with dementia could perceive as holes.

Some members of the group came up with the idea of creating a visible pathway for the whole distance – this would reassure people they were on the right route.

We reached the NorthLink terminal, passing a sign showing the upcoming departure, and entered the building.

We were pleased with the signage both inside and outside, though thought that more signage showing ferry times clearly could be positioned inside the terminal, and also signage showing bus times. The quality of information was good. A digital screen with signing would be useful, as would making sure that all television screens have subtitles switched on.

Having completed our journey, we had a short pause in the NorthLink terminal and a chat to staff, before making a return journey to Community Food Initiatives North East for some soup and sandwiches.