Supporting those with learning and physical disabilities at bus stations and transport interchanges
6 October 2016 • Author(s): Stewart Connell, Senior Duty Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM)
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) offers work experience placements to people with learning and physical disabilities at bus stations and transport interchanges. Stewart Connell, Senior Duty Manager at TfGM, reflects on the benefits of the project for students and for the organisation…
Getting a long-term job has traditionally been an enormous challenge for people with learning and physical disabilities. The Department of Health’s Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework1 found that just 7% of adults with learning disabilities were in some form of paid employment. This figure is particularly low when you consider that 65% of people with learning disabilities reported they would like a paid job.
Students with learning disabilities, aged 16 and older, often struggle to find work experience placements, which provides them with the skills and confidence to help secure a long-term post, because of some employers’ perceptions of disabilities such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and severe forms of epilepsy.
Working with Redwood Secondary School in Rochdale and the charity Pure Innovations in Stockport, TfGM offers work placements in bus stations and at transport interchanges tailored to the specific needs and abilities of students’ learning and/or physical disability. This positive project has been in operation since 2010 and so far TfGM has provided placements for 17 people. It came to fruition after TfGM staff stepped in to address two negative experiences for people with learning disabilities.
In 2010, the Rochdale Bus Station Manager met Redwood School’s Independent Travel Co-ordinator when a bus broke down in the bus station in a location that threatened to disrupt many bus services. Travel Co-ordinator, Lynda Reddish, was at the bus station when this happened and alerted the Bus Station Manager that any disruption would be unexpected and so very alarming to the students with learning disabilities who were travelling home from Redwood Secondary School. The Bus Station Manager worked with Lynda to understand what the impact would be on the students and to put plans in place to address the issues.
‘Students have helped staff to develop a deeper understanding of the issues that affect people with disabilities when using public transport’
On another occasion, TfGM responded to Redwood School’s reports that some of their students were experiencing bullying at the bus station by encouraging students to come into the Travelshop at the bus station to report such occurrences, where help would be available.
TfGM’s reaction to both instances, and the Bus Station Manager’s willingness to listen and adapt to the specific needs of people with learning disabilities, meant that the organisation was a natural choice when Redwood School was looking for additional locations for their students’ work experience placements. The Bus Station Manager was delighted to be invited to participate and worked closely with Lynda Reddish and Marie English, from Redwood School, to design a specific training programme to match the abilities, interests and training needs of the first student. The success of this tailored approach meant that each time TfGM was considered as a venue for a work experience placement, a member of staff worked with the student mentor to put together a bespoke programme. The work experience placements offered at Stockport Bus Station and Wythenshawe Interchange in South Manchester also follow this approach.
TfGM has benefited greatly as the students have helped staff to develop a deeper understanding of the issues that affect people with disabilities when using public transport and assisted in devising solutions. However, the outstanding quality of this project has been the difference it makes to the students.
‘Each student makes remarkable progress during their time with us’
Each student makes remarkable progress during their time with us, often beyond the expectations set out in the first meeting between their course tutor and assigned TfGM mentor. We found that some students were very quiet during their first day at the bus station. As they grow in confidence, they respond fully and are soon initiating conversations and answering customers’ queries. After completing their placement, students often visit staff at the bus station/interchange to update them on what they are doing now.
The experience has given the students the opportunity to work as part of a team, develop new skills which has boosted their self-confidence and led to long-term employment in at least one case.
The scope of the project has recently been extended by TfGM’s participation in mock interviews for students with learning disabilities, which again boosts the students’ self-confidence, improving their employment opportunities and communications skills. We are also collaborating with Redwood on its ‘Supported and Pre Supported’ programme, offering interns four day placements per week. Interns are assisted by a designated coach, as well as a TfGM ‘buddy’, who teaches them the specific responsibilities and requirements of the role.
In the long term, we would like to offer the work placements at many more of our 24 other bus stations and interchanges around Greater Manchester, and we are exploring ways of rolling this out with staff who already work there. Our bus stations and transport interchanges are ideal venues to facilitate the project due to their central locations, welcoming atmosphere (as there is a strong focus on customer service) and because the majority of students already visit them regularly on their journey to and from college.
‘We would encourage other organisations in the sector to consider running similar initiatives’
We would encourage other organisations in the sector to consider running similar initiatives. In our experience, strong relationships are forged between the students and staff, and employees find the project extremely rewarding. Working with people with learning and psychical disabilities has helped to develop our knowledge of the challenges that public transport can pose for people with these disabilities and how any issues can be overcome, which is valuable in shaping our future plans.
1 2012 study
Stewart Connell, Senior Duty Manager, has worked for Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) for 30 years.
He joined the organisation from college, initially managing telephone enquiries, then working as a Data Collector before progressing to roles as a Bus Station Supervisor and a Bus Station Duty Manager. Two and a half years ago Stewart was promoted to Senior Duty Manager.
Stewart’s career highlights include the Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester in 2002 where he was second in command of the City Centre transport team.
Stewart also recalls working as Bus Station Supervisor during the immediate aftermath of the IRA bomb in Manchester in 1996. Although this was highly challenging, Stewart is proud of the achievements of the community in rebuilding the city.
More recently, Stewart’s involvement with Redwood School and Pure Innovations has been a rewarding experience. TfGM offers work placements to young people with learning and physical disabilities at bus stations and transport interchanges across Greater Manchester. This positive project has been in operation since 2010 and Stewart has worked closely with the school to organise placements. TfGM has provided placements for 17 people so far and there are plans to expand the project in the near future.