An innovative scheme to help special needs students to travel to school or college and become more independent is bearing fruit.
The first wheelchair user to complete the project is 17-year-old Emily Riley, and her family say it has made a huge difference to her life. (see case study below). Emily previously attended Radcliffe Riverside High School and is now a student at Bury College.
The Travel Training scheme was set up in August 2013 by Bury Council’s children’s services team and Pure Innovations. This is a structured programme supporting a young person and their family, enabling the young person to become an independent traveller using public transport. This training is an alternative to dedicated home-to-school transport and consequently there is no cost to the family. The programme focuses on on the journey between home and school/college, although training can also be offered for social and extra-curricular activities.
Lynne Barry, school and college transport manager, said: “For those young people who become independently travel trained, it widens their life opportunities for future training, employment and social inclusion. Our target is to successfully train 20 young people per year. Emily is not just the first wheelchair user in Bury to benefit, but the first across the whole of Pure’s contract areas which include Stockport and Bolton, and we hope she is the first of many.”
Case study: how travel training has helped Emily and her family, by Emily’s mum Karen:
“When it was first suggested that Emily try independent travel training I must admit we were not really sure if Emily would be able to do it, but we like Emily to have a try at everything so thought we would give it a go. We liked the idea that someone else rather than ourselves would be doing the training as we thought Emily would react better to that.
“What we thought would be problems, i.e. Emily's visual impairment and her ability to see drop kerbs, cross roads, drive onto the bus and manoeuvre her chair into position, were not a problem at all once she had repeated the journey enough times with her travel trainer.
“We were really surprised at how quickly she picked up these skills. The trainers were fantastic and had so much experience and were so patient. They only moved Emily on to the next level when they were sure she was happy to move on and felt confident. As a result the process was not stressful at all for Emily, quite the opposite and she really enjoyed the challenge. We could see that she was gaining in confidence and feeling really proud of her achievements.
“At the beginning of the process we couldn't really visualise Emily doing the whole journey to college by herself, but after just three months she is at the final stage. It is amazing to see how far she has come and how she has grown in confidence over this time. This confidence has fed into all areas of her life now and she has matured so much. The skills she has leant are truly life changing. The ability to use public transport on her own will open up so many doors for Emily and make a difference to so many aspects of her life in the future. We really shouldn't underestimate what a difference this will make.
“Emily has also had to learn some important life skills during her training too. The problems encountered were nothing at all to do with Emily, they were actually the barriers caused by other people ie cars parked on the pavements, wheelie bins on bin day and overcrowded buses with people standing in the wheelchair space.
“Emily has had to learn to speak to neighbours and ask them politely to move their cars, bins, builders’ placards etc. She has also got to know neighbours who she didn't know before and has befriended all the bus drivers. She even has nicknames for them.
“In turn, many of our neighbours have learned something from seeing Emily out and about and have become more aware of potential hazards for wheelchair users. Most people never even think about what it's like to be a wheelchair user as they have no first-hand experience. It has taken a letter from our local Community Police and a few gentle reminders, but we are almost there. It is also wonderful to see how supportive some of our neighbours are.
“In many ways Emily’s achievements go far beyond just her own independent travel; she is also showing people that disabled people can get out and about in the community and can be part of the community just like everyone else. This can only be a positive thing for everyone.”
Press release issued: 27 January 2014.
Picture attached: Emily Riley.