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Sight Cymru and RNIB Cymru Swap with Me Day

06 Aug 2015

Bus drivers in Blackwood got a taste of what life is like for people with sight loss this week as they swapped places with their passengers.

Stagecoach in South Wales, Sight Cymru and RNIB Cymru teamed up for a special “Swap with Me” event designed to build understanding between drivers and bus users at the bus depot on Penmaen Industrial Estate.

Drivers were blindfolded to experience what it is like to navigate to and on a bus with sight loss, and visually impaired bus users learnt about the challenges of communicating with customers from the driver’s seat. Bus drivers also experienced wearing “sim specs” which simulate different types of eye conditions.

Throughout a ‘Swap with Me’ experience bus drivers are paired with a blind or partially sighted passenger so that they can talk about how they feel and what advice can be shared. 

Earlier this week Stagecoach signed up to RNIB's street charter at its headquarters in Perth, Scotland.

Ceri Jackson, Director of RNIB Cymru, said: "Local bus travel is a lifeline which provides an important means of transport and independence for blind and partially sighted people. Stagecoach has made a great step towards making bus travel more accessible for people with sight loss.”

Angela Knowles, Development Manager for Sight Cymru, added: “Improving the travelling experience on local buses for blind and partially sighted people is extremely important.  For members of Sight Cymru’s “See It My Way” project it is often their only means of transport.  The “Swap with Me” event is a great way to promote a mutual understanding of the challenges experienced by passengers and bus drivers alike.  Thank you Stagecoach.”

Yvonne Laurent, Caerphilly was paired with driver Lyn Williams, 62 of Ynys Du. Yvonne said: “Today was a good chance to help the drivers to learn how hard it is for blind people, from actually getting on the bus to finding a seat. When you ask for help, you’re putting responsibility on the driver. You have to look at it from the driver’s point of view, they don’t want to be responsible for someone.”

Carl Williams a Stagecoach driver from Porth Depot said:  “I think this course has helped both drivers and passengers and I am more aware of the difficulties that people with visual problems encounter on public transport”.

Richard Davies the Commercial Director added: “The drivers from our Blackwood, Caerphilly and Porth depots who took part in the event all found it enlightening. The event fell within a week of Stagecoach signing up to RNIB's Bus Charter, which confirmed our commitment to accessible transport. A further Swap With Me event is planned in Merthyr Tydfil in September and we hope it will be equally as successful.”

Julie Wayte, 45, of Machen was paired with driver Daniel Thomas, 25, of Caerphilly. Julie said: “I wanted to come along today to explain about some bad experiences I’ve had in the past. I asked a driver to tell me when a certain stop came up, he must have forgotten because when I got off I was in completely the wrong place – at the side of a field! I didn’t know where I was and my dog wasn’t able to navigate.

“I think the drivers have understood how bus travel is different for blind and partially sighted people. Lots of drivers are very helpful, but it takes something like this event to make them aware.”

Bus driver Daniel said: “I was asked to attend today and jumped at the chance. I’ve not had much experience of passengers with sight loss. Today has definitely helped me understand the needs of people like Julie.”

Mathew Richard King, 40, of Porth wore Sim Specs that simulated the later stages of sight loss. Mathew said: “I attended today because I encounter blind people in my job, and I wanted to experience what it was like for them when they get on my bus. When I tried to find an empty seat while wearing these glasses – well it was terrible! Not so much scary, as totally confusing. I know these buses very well, so I knew there was a step, but I couldn’t find it! The orange handles are very useful, without them I’d have been lost.”

Heather Oldfield, 81, of Llanbradach had a go in the driver’s seat

She said: “The driver’s seat is very comfortable, you can adjust the height and shape to suit your body, but there is a lot to think about when driving a bus: the different fares, the comments of the customers getting on and off, remembering all the brakes and signals, and of course the traffic.”

“As a blind person, there are problems I face that I never even thought of when I was sighted. Some of the problems are inevitable, but so many of them can be lessened. Simple things like being told where your stop is. That’s why I think today was so important, and so successful: it’s all about communication. If you have good communication, that’s so much better for both sides, so I enjoyed today talking to a driver to explain my concerns, and listening what it’s like to be in a driver’s position.”