Maintaining dignity on buses and trains

“Mind the Gap” on public transport has an additional meaning for people with disability and other marginalised groups. It’s not just the barriers and inconveniences, it’s also the indignity that people experience. Gaps result from barriers in infrastructure, communication systems and attitudes. Consequently, not everyone is able to maintain their dignity on buses and trains.

More than 30% of people with disability in Australia experience difficulties using public transport. Consequently, this impacts on their ability to participate in the economy and society.

A boy in a powered wheelchair is mounting the ramp into the Queensland Rail train. A woman stands behind him and the station guard looks on. A man with a baby stroller and boy wait nearby to enter the train carriage. The image is from the Access and Inclusion webpage.

Image from Queensland Transport’s Access and Inclusion Strategy.

Perceptions of dignity are about not feeling discrimination, shame or humiliation. Positive experiences of acceptance and inclusion help maintain dignity even when things might not work well. A research study in Queensland explored these issues with people with disability.

The researchers found that dignified mobility experiences were not isolated or momentary. Rather, entire travel journeys that were accessible, inclusive, equitable, promoted independence and enhanced self-worth contributed to dignified mobility experiences. And it wasn’t all about infrastructure.

Interpersonal interactions experienced in physical, digital and communication spaces across travel journeys were just as important as physical barriers. A sense of dignity came from feeling respected, appropriately helped and being treated like anyone else. Both tangible and intangible aspects of the whole journey need consideration. The researchers point to a universal design approach.

Universal design, access to accessible and inclusive information, and empathic attitudes help create dignified mobility experiences for people with disability when using buses and trains.

Picture of the Esplanade Busport showing the stop sequence of the trains from the adjoining train station

The research paper provides key information for a universal design approach to dignified journeys. They include detail on accessible and inclusive information and the need for empathic systems and staff.

The title of the article is, The dignity experience of people with disability when using trains and buses in an Australian city.

From the abstract

When transport systems are accessible and inclusive, people with disability experience dignity. When personal mobility is constrained by physical, social and/or communication, barriers, people with disability experience exclusion and risk to their dignity.

This study explored the role of trains and buses in an Australian city in supporting access, inclusion and dignified mobility experiences for people with disability. Twenty-six semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants with diverse visible and invisible disabilities.

The findings highlight the complexities involved with navigating public transport systems while maintaining dignity. Accessible and inclusive information, infrastructure, and interactions with staff ensured dignified mobility experiences.

Dignified mobility experiences represent a complex and dynamic interaction between personal experiences and preferences, impairment-specific requirements, transport infrastructure, interpersonal experiences, and information inclusivity.

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