Alex Manners highlights the trials of using public transport for people with a hidden disability.
Public transport can be challenging for many people with hidden disabilities like Asperger’s and autism. The noises, smells, sights and the sheer number of people at a train station or airport can be overwhelming.
When I was at secondary school, the thought of taking a bus or train to school (nine miles away) would have been terrifying, so I used to travel every day by taxi with five other people. When I left school, my parents and I agreed it was time for me to start becoming more independent. So a man from our local council provided me with three days of travel training and it was fantastic. He showed me how to get the train into the city centre and gave me lots of great tips and advice, like where to sit and what to look out for. Then he showed me how to catch the bus to my new college. The training left me feeling a lot more confident.
Although I am now much happier about travelling by train, I still don’t like using the bus. Like many people on the autism spectrum, I don’t like change. I have had many buses cancelled on me and I don’t feel confident with the bus routes or which stops to get off at.
Booking train tickets online can be quite confusing and I used to get very stressed about it. When my mum showed me some of her preferred websites for booking tickets, I was adamant that they wouldn’t work for me. However, when I gave them a try, I actually got used to them. They can still be confusing at times though, and I believe travel companies should make their websites clearer and more concise.
As soon as I book tickets, I print them out and I save photos and details of my journey to my phone. Don’t assume that you will be able to get Wi-Fi at the station or on the train! I also make sure I have contingency plans in case trains are delayed or cancelled, and that I know where to go if I need to ask for help. Many people with autism struggle with new environments and often have a fear of the unknown. So it’s always best to plan your journey in advance. This could include a pre-visit to the train station or airport, or looking at some photos.
Another issue that people with autism often face is sensitivity to walls and using diffusers on lights would both help. Other useful changes could include having smaller waiting areas and more of them, using different textures on seating, and having clearer signage.
Being able to travel by public transport has changed my life. I now go all over the country on trains and this has enabled me to start achieving my dreams and experience many wonderful adventures. Although it was a struggle to start with, practice and planning has made it more manageable. It would be a big help though, if travel companies would think about how they could make the experience of using their services easier for all their customers.
About the author Alex Manners is a children’s radio show presenter, public speaker and the author of That’s Not Right! My Life Living with Asperger’s. He recently started the “Travelling with a Hidden Disability” campaign.