Make Plane, Train, and Bus Terminals Sensory-Friendly

For many people, traveling by plane, train or bus is fun! However, for people with sensory sensitivities, transportation is often overwhelming and contributes to sensory overload. Regardless of whether it’s a plane, train, or bus, there are several parts of the travelling or simply commuting that make it stress-inducing. As a result, many people avoid travel. For many people too, the stress and anxiety of their daily commute contribute to their ill-health. Make plane, train and bus terminals sensory-friendly and transportation become accessible and inclusive to more people.

What makes terminals inaccessible?

Even for travelers without disability, better accessibility helps everyone. Conference speakers as part of the Sensory Friendly Solutions 55 + Travelers: Arriving and Thriving Audio Conference shared barriers to great transportation experiences:

  • Travel information is not easily understood
  • Travel updates and announcements are only shared verbally
  • Limited customer service
  • Lack of accessibility services at train stations, bus stations and airports
  • Inaccessible features of communication, such as on devices like touch screens

Ultimately, the type of barrier that a traveler experiences is specific. However, improving accessibility, helps all travelers. For example, people who are blind have difficulty viewing travel updates or navigating around large airports. However, many, many travelers have changes in their vision. Furthermore, people who use a wheelchair might have difficulty with the physical accessibility bus and train terminals and airports. Moreover, many, many travelers have difficulty walking long distances. Think of older persons who may use a cane or have less endurance. Families with young children. Infants and toddlers in strollers. Announcements will not be understood by travelers who are Deaf, but many people have hearing loss and hearing aids do not solve the problem!

How to create a sensory-friendly transportation experience?

There are many ways to make a travel experience a more enjoyable and sensory-friendly experience. Below are easy and effective strategies to be sensory-friendly, accessible and include more people.

Infographic highlighting 4 ways to make travelling more sensory-friendly.

Present travel information in a clear manner

An easy solution for travel companies to make their information more accessible. Present printed or digital information with clarity. For example, make sure that fonts and background meet contrast ratio. Include alt text for images. An easy rule to follow is to keep everything simple. Too much colour, fancy font and an overwhelming amount of unnecessary pictures is confusing.

Another important aspect to consider is to also present important information in Braille. Providing information in Braille ensures greater independence for travelers who are blind or with low vision.

Have both auditory and visual updates

Furthermore, is crucial that travel updates are both auditory (heard) and visual (read) for a sensory-friendly transportation experience. For example, all announcements should be said in a clear and slow tone. Moreover, it is helpful if this information is repeated more than once at intervals. Additionally, present visual information clearly on screens without flashing and/or moving font. Be sure to use clear and simple fonts, large font sizes and simple colour schemes.

Woman pushing another woman in a wheelchair at a train station smiling at each other.

Offer diverse mobility accessibility services

People move around differently! Offer diverse mobility accessibility services to help people get to their bus, train or plane! For example, include:

  • Sighted guides and assistance to bring travelers to their departure location.
  • Priority boarding for people who self-identify as needing extra assistance. Disability is not always visible!
  • Wheelchairs.
  • Shuttle services like golf carts to transport travelers longer distances in a terminal or station.

These features create accessible, inclusive, sensory-friendly terminals and are extremely beneficial for people with mobility impairments, people who use canes or walker, older adults and families pushing strollers or with young children. Additionally, many people are dependent on these accessibility services to travel at all.

Provide exceptional customer service

The last aspect of travelling that is important is providing travelers with a positive customer service experience. Many people with sensory sensitivities will experience elevated levels of stress while travelling and will require more support. According to research conducted in 2020 discussing tourism with autism, this is often associated with straying from unfamiliar routines. Therefore, it is very common for people with sensory sensitivities, or any type of disability to need additional assistance with the travelling experience.

For transportation operators, having enough, trained staff delivers exceptional return on investment. Think of the additional time and disruption to service when any traveler experiences difficulty. Good and great customer service gets noticed. All travelers are happier (someone else’s problem doesn’t not disrupt their travel) when there are fewer delays. Staff are also happier when things go smoothly. Have staff ready to help. Train staff about disabilities and accessibility, and your operation will reap the rewards.

All of these strategies create a sensory-friendly terminals for planes, trains and buses, that commuters and travelers alike will enjoy.

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