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How to Gain Independence With Autism Through Travel

January 26, 2024

When I was younger, I would never use public transport. The thought of getting a train or bus, especially on my own, would have just scared me.

How to Gain Independence With Autism Through Travel

During my years at secondary school, I would travel by taxi with others from my local area. Once I had left the school my parents decided it would be a good idea for me to be more independent and be able to travel around on my own.

So, a man from our local council provided me with three days of travel training. On the first two days he showed me how to get a train into the city centre.

On the third day he showed me how to get the bus to my local college where I was going to be starting a course. He gave me some great tips such as showing me where to sit on the train and what to look out for. He also showed me a local travel shop I could go to if I needed any help or advice.

The travel training was fantastic and left me feeling much more confident. I now travel all over the country on trains and even provided some travel training of my own to one of my friends from the charity I am involved with called Family Equip. While I am now very confident on trains, I still do not like getting on buses.

Often, I will choose to walk instead of getting on a bus. The reason being that I have often had multiple buses canceled and don’t feel confident knowing the routes and which stops to get off at.

“Travelling with a Hidden Disability” is a campaign that I have set up to make bus, train, coach, and plane travel (or any form of public transport) more accessible for people with hidden disabilities such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

I want to increase awareness for hidden disabilities and make environments such as train stations and airports more accessible. My objectives are driven by what I call the “The Alien Principle.” The goal is to make traveling so simple and easy to understand that an alien could do it!

The reason I decided to start my campaign was that I wanted to use my past experiences to improve the experiences of others. I first started working with one of my local universities to conduct a feasibility study into how rail travel can be made more accessible to people with less visible impairments.

I then went into a company called Mott MacDonald to help them make the designs for the refurbishments of my local train station more autism-friendly. Mott MacDonald then asked me to present a talk all about “My Life Living with Asperger’s”. I talked to their staff about my experiences using trains and buses, the travel training I received from my local council, and how train stations can be made more accessible for people with autism.

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Train stations and airports can be daunting places for individuals with hidden disabilities. The amount of people, noises, smells, and sights can be overwhelming. However, there are many things that can be done to make our experience less stressful.

For example, having smaller waiting rooms and more of them, different textures of seating, and very clear signage. Many people with autism struggle with bright lights and colors so light-colored walls and diffusers on the lighting can be helpful. If it’s a new station or airport you are traveling to then it’s always a good idea to make sure you are familiar with your environment before your journey.

This could be done via a pre-visit or by photos of the station or airport. All these changes that will help people with hidden disabilities will benefit everybody because everyone finds traveling difficult to some degree.

Purchasing tickets online has been one of my biggest challenges and has often caused me a lot of stress. One website I used to use to purchase my tickets stopped working often. Even when I have tried to purchase tickets over the phone or at my local train station over the counter, I have been unsuccessful.

The website I now use is okay but quite confusing. It’s hard to work out exactly what trains I am entitled to get with my tickets or to find the best prices.

Therefore, I believe there are a lot of improvements travel companies need to make to their websites to ensure they are clear and concise.

Whenever I travel by train I always ensure I have saved photos of my journey and the trains I will be catching to my phone. I also always opt to print out my tickets instead of having them as e-tickets on my phone. You never know when the Wi-Fi will cut out and by doing these things, I know

I will still be able to get to my destination. On long journeys where the trains are equipped with plugs, I like to sit right by one so I can ensure my phone is fully charged should I need to use it.

One of the most important aspects of traveling is to have a contingency plan to ensure that if a train is late or canceled, you know who to ask for help or who to call. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!”

Being able to travel by train has given me freedom and allowed me to become my own person. Instead of having to wait for lifts from my family I can now travel anywhere I like whenever I like. The travel training I received was the one thing that allowed me to become more independent.

I want to use my experiences to help others and through my “Travelling with a Hidden Disability” campaign I feel like I am already taking positive steps to ensure public transport can become accessible for everyone.

Alex’s Tips:

  • Plan ahead
  • Have a contingency plan
  • Save photos of your journey to your phone
  • Don’t assume

This article was featured in Issue 101 – Balancing The Autism Journey

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