Disabled people are “at the heart” of a pioneering new centre that will research and develop accessible transport solutions, its launch event heard this week.
The new National Centre for Accessible Transport (NCAT) aims to improve the accessibility and reliability of road, rail and air transport for disabled people.
Its research and agenda will be led by disabled people, and it aims to amplify the voices of disabled people in all its decision-making.
The project is led by Coventry University, alongside the disabled-led Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (RiDC), the charity Designability, innovation accelerator Connected Places Catapult, cross-party thinktank Policy Connect and engineering consultancy WSP UK.
They have been awarded £20 million over seven years by the charity Motability* to develop and run the centre, which is based at the university’s National Transport Design Centre.
The new centre aims to transform the sector’s understanding of disabled people’s experiences of transport, through carrying out research and developing accessible transport solutions.
Stephanie McPherson-Brown, a disabled postgraduate researcher at NCAT who is researching disabled people’s experiences of public transport, particularly those with reduced mobility, told yesterday’s (Wednesday) launch event: “I have never felt like I could take my independence for granted and it’s something that’s very important to me, but also comes with a lot of challenges.”
She said the impact of inaccessible transport affects not just getting to work, or school, or the hospital, but also the ability to socialise, see friends and “to be spontaneous just like everyone else”.
She said: “I live in Scotland, so there’s so much on my doorstep and it should be accessible to me to just say I’m going to be completely spontaneous today and go somewhere that I want to go.
“Those are the things that really help to improve things like social inclusion and to harbour a sense of self-esteem.”
She said it was important that the centre’s work was being led by disabled people.
She added: “I just feel I can’t actually describe how important this work is and the honour I feel to be a part of it, and also the excitement to just see it grow.”
Professor Paul Herriotts, NCAT’s director, told the launch event that there were “world-class people in user-centred design” at the university, and he added: “What we have found is that it is critical to put users at the heart of the design and engineering process.
“When we work with the end users from day one, and understand their needs and wants and abilities, and then work with them to co-create solutions, then we will have successful outcomes.”
RiDC, which specialises in inclusive research involving disabled consumers, will play a key role in ensuring that disabled people are at the heart of the centre’s work and shape “accessible transport solutions”.
This will include developing and managing a new Community for Accessible Transport, a pan-impairment panel of disabled people which will help set the centre’s agenda by providing evidence and insight through surveys, focus groups, testing, and research design.
Dr Phil Friend, chair of RiDC, said ahead of the launch: “We know, from our research and lived experience, how crucial travel is to being able to live independent and fulfilling lives.
“NCAT has been developed to ensure that it is disabled people themselves who advise on the solutions and services they need in this area.
“Our role in the coalition is to provide high quality research from the lived experience of disabled people – which will inform decision-making in UK government, industry and civil society.”
The disabled peer and accessible transport campaigner Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson said before the launch that it was a “really important endeavour”, and that she hoped it would “challenge the status quo and ensure disabled people have the same right to travel as everybody else”.
She said there had been some positive changes to inclusive transport in her lifetime, but it “has not gone far enough”.
Research by Motability (PDF) has found that disabled people make an average of 38 per cent fewer trips than non-disabled people – with an average of 20 journeys a week for non-disabled people, compared with about 12 for disabled people – with no reduction in this gap over the past decade.
Motability’s analysis shows that completely closing this gap for disabled people in the UK would deliver benefits worth about £72 billion a year.
Rachael Badger, director of performance and engagement at Motability, said: “While some progress has been made in terms of making transport more accessible, we want to see that gap closing, and we want to see change on a larger scale to make transport more inclusive.”
*Motability, the charity which oversees the company that runs the disabled people’s car scheme, is a Disability News Service subscriber
Picture: An RiDC panel member boarding a bus
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