Avanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to provide a dedicated social media forum for disabled customers. It enables passengers on the West Coast main line to connect with each other as well as a social media team assigned to provide specialist support.
The private and visible group ‘Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast’ is designed to provide a support network by connecting disabled customers who are planning or making a journey with Avanti West Coast’s specialist social media team, as well as people who have a shared understanding of disability and rail travel. The aim is to create a community where valuable insights as well as information are shared to enable independent travel for all.
Managed by Avanti West Coast’s social media team, the group can be easily found by searching Facebook – members and content can only be seen by those who have been permitted access. Members can use the group to contact Avanti West Coast directly – making it easier to receive direct support from the social media team, who will offer reassurance and help those who may need extra assistance when travelling.
This new approach of an exclusive social media platform for disabled customers is a first for the rail industry and is the idea of Emma Martell, Avanti West Coast’s head of social content.
Emma was inspired to create the group through her own personal experience. Following her diagnosis with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – a condition that makes connective tissue weaker – she found support by joining Facebook groups, which helped her to find ways to cope with some of the issues more practically.
From this experience, she worked with Avanti West Coast’s external Accessibility Panel to change communication with disabled customers with the aim of building a community engaging in regular dialogue.
“We believe creating a sense of community with our customers through a private forum on social media can add real value for those who may need extra assistance,” Emma Martel explained. “We want to both help them directly and enable them to help others, so everyone feels supported when planning or making a journey.
“By connecting people who have a shared understanding we want to build a support network, where tips and experiences for journeys on our route can be exchanged. We hope this platform will help to improve the overall journey experience for disabled customers and encourage more people to travel by train.”
As part of the platform’s launch, Avanti West Coast’s social media team have received training on the social model of disability – a way of viewing the world developed by disabled people – to help them recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people.
They are receiving further specialist training focused on how they communicate with disabled people from Furner Communications (an external agency specialising in the disability sector) that will equip them with the knowledge and skills to assist disabled people in the best possible way.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris commented: “Ensuring our network is accessible for all passengers is crucial, and it’s positive to see Avanti West Coast creating a dedicated social media community to help those who require extra assistance to travel safely and with confidence.”