The government-run organisation in charge of the country’s motorways and major A-roads has announced plans to make journeys easier for disabled people. Highways England is particularly keen to help deaf people communicate with the organisation, as well as introducing measures to familiarise people with motorway services.
This week, the firm has introduced a new British Sign Language (BSL) service for its customer contact centre, which provides journey planning advice, information about roadworks and traffic conditions, as well as assistance to people who have broken down and need help. Using a video-based interpretation service called SignLive, the system allows deaf people to access the same service as people with unimpaired hearing.
SignLive is a free service designed to put deaf users in contact with a professional BSL interpreter, who will contact Highways England on their behalf and then translate the conversation.
As well as the collaboration with SignLive, Highways England has also partnered with AccessAble, which provides disabled people with accessibility information on venues around the UK and Ireland. The app is available for free, and will now include information on motorway services.
More than 100 service areas on the English motorway network will be surveyed by AccessAble, which will determine the accessibility of amenities such as parking, toilets and shops. The first survey has already taken place at Watford Gap, and all 113 Access Guides will launch in early 2021. Virtual guides will also be created, with 360-degree imagery enabling people to understand what awaits them when they arrive.
“We always encourage everyone to plan their journeys before setting off and appreciate that for some people this isn’t as easy as for others,” said Highways England’s customer service director, Melanie Clarke. “That’s why we’re launching new services, to break down barriers and help people reliably plan and feel confident about their journeys. We’ll continue our work to improve facilities in collaboration with the expertise of the Roads for All Forum members.”
Meanwhile Guy Dangerfield, head of strategy at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said the new schemes would help disabled road users get assistance.
“We know that driving gives disabled road users vital independence, but the lack of relevant information in suitable formats can make planning a journey very difficult,” he said. “Our research showed the barriers that disabled people can face. It is good to see Transport Focus recommendations being taken onboard to make it easier for all road users to plan journeys and get assistance when they need it.”