‘If you could go anywhere, where would you go?’

…was the question posed to the group, before planning a travel training session. Once we’d discounted the moon as unrealistic, our minds were concentrated on more earthly options. How about Spain then? We went there on holiday and it was nice. OK, but is it within the remit of your bus pass; and could we get there and return in time for your taxi at 3:30? I guess it’ll have to be Marlow, then. We’ll have to watch out for the red kites, though; they nick your sandwiches.

Regardless of the proximity of the destination, the questions when planning a journey are the same. How long have we got; how can we get there (and preferably, back); what will it cost; what can we do there; what’s the weather gonna be like; can we have ice cream?

The purpose of travel training for those with a learning disability and/or autism is to nurture independence, to ultimately enable them to get to their destination without support. However, there are certain barriers that are often encountered. Noisy and busy public transport can be daunting, particularly at school time; or there can be unpredictability in the schedule, where a bus doesn’t always arrive or depart at the same time as stated on the timetable. Impatient and unsympathetic staff, who may not have been trained in communication with those who have special needs, can easily deter a person who lacks confidence. There could be safeguarding concerns, where someone may be vulnerable in the community. Parents, too, may be wary of allowing their offspring to travel alone if they think they’re not ready.

Even when the above are overcome, a major constraint for those who wish to use their bus pass for college or work is that they only become valid after 9 a.m. (or 9:30 in some areas). In England alone, councils spend over £1bn a year to transport young people to school or college. Apart from the personal benefits of independence if they were able to get there alone, there could be some serious savings to be made if their passes were useable.

At Talkback, travel training is centred on the ability and needs of the individual and is taken one step at a time. How does the person travel at the moment; where do they have to go; do they have, or are they eligible for, a bus pass; can they plan a journey; do they have the confidence to eventually travel unsupported; how would they react if something went wrong? Safety is at the core of the training and the right support is in place for the individual. No-one is left to do it alone until they are ready.

The Footprints assessment tool is designed to gauge where each learner is in their step towards greater independence. Most people can join the scheme and get on at the right step for them, even if it’s simply sitting on your own on the bus. Bespoke target setting, combined with practical and theoretical sessions, enables each person to build their knowledge and skills, to develop the confidence to explore newfound independence. 

By the use of public transport, a world of new opportunities can be unlocked, including greater access to the community and local leisure facilities, increasing opportunities to socialise and make friends. Employment and education prospects also improve when the ultimate objective is achieved, to realise independent travel.

You never know; one day we might make it to the moon!!

By Tony Flower