After taking our journey together in Aberdeen and recording our experiences of making one train-to-boat connection, we were keen to move our work to the west coast, planning a second journey from the railway station at Ardrossan to the ferry terminal there.
We knew that we wouldn’t replicate our experience in Aberdeen; as well as the connection itself covering a smaller area, the two locations are very different – Aberdeen is a busy city, Ardrossan a quieter town – and while the ferry journey from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland takes between six and thirteen hours, sailing from Ardrossan to Aran takes just one hour. It was important to us to see how well our methods of recording information worked in this new environment.
We incorporated things we felt had worked well on our first journey: working in groups formed of leaders, note-takers, participants, and representatives from transport organisations (ScotRail and CalMac in Ardrossan); using themed cards to show reactions to parts of the journey; bringing emergency Tunnocks wafers – with updated information packs.
Some of our participants had also attended the Aberdeen journey, while others were joining after participating in one of our workshops. On the day, we congregated on the train to listen to a pre-journey briefing and be sorted into our groups; my group included people who had visual impairments, physical impairments, and were living with dementia. Although the connection took less time to make than it had in Aberdeen, we had just as many notes to compare afterwards! Here’s a brief record of our group’s experience – just one snapshot of the day as a whole.
As we got off the train, the first feeling we noted was one of uncertainty – should we turn left or right? While maybe obvious to those familiar with the station, the rest of us were left confused, as there was no obvious signage. Moving from the train to the platform also involved a drop; a couple of passengers used a fairly steep ramp, reporting that they felt unbalanced. However, as we turned right, moving towards what we hoped was the way off the platform, the pathway was nice and wide, with a suitable surface.
Going along the platform, we approached a help point and a covered waiting area. We thought that both could be improved. The colour of the help-point could be changed to make it more visually obvious to people with impaired sight – it would be better in white rather than yellow. The seats in the covered waiting area received negative responses from the group – they were too low down, and made of cold metal which was uncomfortable. The space in general was very cold, and we all agreed it wasn’t a place you’d want to wait for long.
At this stage, we couldn’t see any visible signs directing us to the ferry, but we continued along the platform until we came to the exit – a gentle slope leading to a metal gateway, with a road on the other side. Although we realised that this area was, during certain times of day, a busy crossing area that traffic to and from the boat drove through, there was no signage warning or informing passengers of this. However, there was a line in front of the road, and a sign warning people not to cross ‘the line’ and trespass onto ScotRail property – all in all, a bit confusing! Unsure of what line the sign was talking about, we stepped over the one on the road. We thought that it would be helpful to have the crossing clearly marked, with a change of surfaces to ensure people with sight impairments were aware they were approaching a crossing area.
As we crossed the road, we saw something waiting on the other side – the boat! However, on closer inspection it turned out to be not our boat, but one in dock for repairs. Because it was directly opposite the ScotRail site and there was a lack of signage directing us to our actual next step, our instinct had been to head for it – a little confusing!
After realising that this boat wasn’t for us, we headed for the covered walkway that led us to the ferry terminal. As we went through the walkway, we appreciated that the covering protected us from the elements, and that the marking on the glass made it noticeable and helpful to people with dementia. However, we also thought the walkway area could feel a rather unwelcoming and exposed environment at night. We also thought it would be great to have a resting point halfway along, and a change of surface at the other end to signal a road crossing.
While there was signage at this stage, it we thought it could be larger and clearer to make them easier for people to read. The sign that looked most urgent was alerting people that they must buy tickets, rather than providing directions.
We left the walkway and crossed to where the ferry terminal was, entering through a heavy door – the other one was locked, causing issues for wheelchair users. Inside, we noticed a well-located customer help point. We struggled to hear announcements, which need to be a bit louder. Taking our notepads to the toilets, we were glad there was an accessible toilet, but thought it seemed more suited to families than disabled passengers, and noted that better signage in the ladies would also help navigation – particularly a Way Out sign on the door.
We paused for a cup of coffee in the terminal and a chat about how we’d found things so far, during which participants made a couple of crucial observations about the connection: firstly, better identification of the route would be really helpful, and could be done by clearly marking crossings with both white lines, and changes in surface materials. Secondly, while the connection uses numbers that seem designed to be read by people with visual impairments, Braille readers may not recognise a tactile number, as these are not usually taught. Similarly, arrows don’t translate – there needs to be words that spell out ‘Exit right’, or ‘Exit left’. This was something I had also been unaware of, and the observation seemed a perfect example of the importance of including disabled passengers in transport consultation and co-design.
Finishing on that positive note, we made our way back to the town centre to have lunch together and hold a brief group discussion about how we’d found the day and the journey. Chatting about our experiences soon developed into a conversation about the potential these kinds of projects have for bringing people with different disabilities together, as well as the practical ways we can collaborate and learn from each other.
I left full of inspiration, and excited for the next stage of the project, our design workshop on May 29th – more details here.