Achieving Inclusive Design - Consultation with Disabled People
Alan William Lowe, Transport for Greater Manchester, Scott Graham Richardson, Transport for Greater Manchester
TfGM established the Disability Design Reference Group (DDRG) whose members represent a thorough cross section of impairments. TfGM are keen to share the DDRG model - an award winning group - with other transport professionals.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) recognises the importance of social equity in public transport in connecting all members of society to employment, educational and social opportunities. In 2008 when work began to expand the Metrolink light rail system, TfGM established the Disability Design Reference Group (DDRG) whose members represent a thorough cross section of impairments including wheelchair users, mobility scooter users, people with hearing and/or sight impairments, and people with learning difficulties. TfGM engages in meaningful and appropriate consultation with the DDRG through using the life experience and technical knowledge of disabled people to support the delivery of the largest light rail system in the UK.
The influence of the DDRG has been far reaching and has included but is not limited to, designs for step-free access to stops, Park and Ride facilities, tram layout, signage and communication strategies. Such influences can be seen along the recently opened line to Manchester Airport. As a result of taking note of lessons learned and continued consultation with the DDRG both during the design and on site, small changes have been implemented resulting in excellent levels of accessibility.
The Metrolink system is fully accessible (every stop has a step free access option), which has obvious benefits for mobility impaired people. In addition, numerous features are included as standard to assist passengers with other impairments, such as colour contrasting infrastructure, clear signage and audio information. The input of the DDRG ensures that the details of these features are carefully considered, are fully compliant with guidance and standards and (most importantly) are as useful as possible for disabled people. However, it is important to note that DDRG input not only ensures full compliance, they have also influenced the development of innovative solutions. In this way, they are therefore not only assisting TfGM in providing increased accessibility above and beyond guidance and standards, they are also at the forefront of driving forward improved provision for disabled people in the UK. TfGM are keen that lessons learnt from engagement with the DDRG are used nationally to inform the next generation of guidance and standards.
It is acknowledged that by improving accessibility for disabled people, other members of society will benefit as well, such as the elderly, pregnant women, and people with pushchairs. For example, reducing ramp gradients will make travel easier for both manual wheelchair users and people with pushchairs, just as clear and easy to understand signage will assist anyone unfamiliar with Metrolink or with learning difficulties to navigate the system. The numerous benefits that the DDRG provide mean that TfGM will continue consulting with the group throughout the duration of the current Metrolink Second City Crossing (2CC) project, and also in the delivery of the proposed Trafford Park extension. The Trafford Park extension will improve access to the intu Trafford Centre, a major provider of employment and recreational activities in Greater Manchester, along with other businesses, retail and leisure opportunities along the route.
TfGM recognise that social equity in the Metrolink expansion is not just limited to physical infrastructure. Following a successful six month trial in 2014, mobility scooter users are now allowed on Metrolink providing they have a valid permit. Subsequently, a mobility scooter user has now been invited as a member of the DDRG to help ensure the needs of customers using this form of personal transport are considered in TfGM projects going forward.
The DDRG is recognised as a model of best practice by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission and has won numerous awards including ‘Best Customer Initiative’ at the Light Rail Awards (2012), and Breakthrough UK’s ‘National Independent Living’ award (2012) for public sector engagement. Following the successes of the DDRG’s work on the Metrolink expansion, the remit of the group has increased to include consultation on non-Metrolink TfGM wide projects. Amongst others, this will include the design and construction of major transport Interchanges and a new Guided Busway. This expansion of the role of the DDRG demonstrates the importance TfGM affords to continue to innovate and improve accessibility across all modes of transport and associated infrastructure within Greater Manchester.
TfGM are keen to share the DDRG model and lessons learnt during the development of an award winning group with other transport professionals. We are justifiably proud of the work of the DDRG and, through real life examples and stories from members on how their input has led to tangible accessibility improvements, hope to inspire others to engage with disabled people to improve social equity in their schemes.
Association for European Transport