Highways England is introducing new resources to make it easier for disabled people to use England’s motorways and major A-roads.
Disabled people represent 5% of the driving population but the lack of relevant information in suitable formats can make planning a journey very difficult, according to independent watchdog Transport Focus.
HIghways England aims to address this by introducing access guides to help explain the facilities offered at motorway service areas. it is also making it possible for deaf people to communicate with its customer contact centre using British Sign Language (BSL).
An estimated 150,000 people in the UK use BSL as their main, or sole, means of communication and the measures coincide with International Day of Sign Languages today (September, 23).
Deaf people will now be able to use SignLive to get in touch with an online professional BSL interpreter, who will contact Highways England on their behalf and translate the conversation.This will make it easier for them to get assistance when their vehicle has broked down or when they want journey planning advice or information about roadworks and traffic conditions.
Highways England has also joined up with AccessAble, which provides accessibility information on thousands of venues across the UK and Ireland via a free app, to include information on motorway services areas in England.
More than 100 service areas on England’s motorway network will be surveyed to determine the accessibility of parking, toilets, petrol stations, shops and restaurants. The first survey took place at Watford Gap in August, with all 113 Access Guides due to launch in early 2021.
Virtual Access Guides, which uses 360-degree imagery, will also be created.
David Livermore, director of business development at AccessAble, said: “The project will not only give people all the information they need to plan a trip but also support Highways England and motorway service operators to see how facilities could be improved in the future.
"We are particularly looking forward to working in collaboration with disabled people and disability organisations who are experts in this space to ensure the service is the best it can be."
Highways England customer service director Melanie Clarke said: “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. That’s why we’re launching new services, to break down barriers and help people reliably plan and feel confident about their journeys."
She added that Highways England will continue to collaborate with the Roads for All Forum, which brings together a wide range of organisations that represent, or provide services to, disabled road user, to improve facilities.