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Are Highways England’s recently announced disability inclusive measures enough?

Recently Highways England announced proposed improvements to the way in which it makes the A-roads and motorways of England accessible for disabled drivers. The changes have caused some discussion – but what are the proposed changes, and do you think they are enough?

Context for the wider issue

Roughly one in four people identify as having a disability, and disabled drives make up around five percent of the driving population. The issue is, however, that in many cases roads are simply not well enough equipped to support their needs. The issue will almost certainly be apparent to you, either as a disabled driver yourself or as someone with a relative, loved one, or friend who is a disabled driver.

It’s also important to remember that there is a broad range of disabled drivers, who have different needs. There are disabled drivers who have some form of physical difficulty and who may have a disabled access vehicle, for example, or those who have a hearing impairment. Driving can put an individual in so many difficult circumstances, it’s important that everyone has the support they need in order to drive safely.

Here at Fish we provide specialist disability car insurance for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) and Blue Badge holders and we are acutely aware of this need.

What are Highways England doing?

The current proposals by Highways England are two-fold, with a plan to refine and reform going forward.

The first was announced on the International Day of Sign Languages, September 23rd 2020, and involved an initiative to allow drivers with hearing impairment to better communicate with the agency. This will be through the use of British Sign Language. It is estimated that 150,000 people use British Sign Language (BSL) as their primary or sole manner of communication. As a response to this, Highways England has established a support framework that will operate 24/7 throughout the year. It involves provision for anyone who uses BSL to use the SignLive service to reach the Customer Contact Centre – this service connects a deaf user with a professional online BSL interpreter who can help to translate a conversation between the caller and customer service operator.

The services provided are also improving in order to better facilitate the needs of disabled drivers. This means drivers can now get assistance with planning a journey, notice of any roadworks or potential traffic conditions, as well as breakdown advice and assistance.

The second phase of the proposed measures takes the form of a new partnership with AccessAble, a group that provides information about accessibility on thousands of locations throughout the UK via their free app. The partnership will allow AccessAble to provide appropriate information on a broad range of motorway service stations throughout the English motorway network. There are currently plans for 100 service areas to be fully surveyed – this will consider accessibility with parking, refuelling, shopping, restaurants, and of course, any toilet facilities that are present. Virtual access guides are planned for deployment next year, allowing a user to get the clearest possible representation of the area using 360-degree images.

The good and the bad

The pros of this initiative are obvious in that it’s hard to discount any effort to make roads and services more easily accessible for disabled people. These measures will make routine journeys less stressful and difficult for those who suffer from disabilities, whether it’s through allowing them to better plan their journeys or through having the support in place to better assist them in the event of a breakdown or accident.

The downside is that some may feel that these measures simply don’t go far enough. Changes can be a long time coming, and those who suffer from disabilities can often encounter frustration that basic accessibility provisions haven’t been taken by official bodies and regulators. This initiative does show a willingness to improve the infrastructure, however, and so it’s cause for at least some form of optimism for future developments.

Get your voice heard

Highways England have indicated that they will be listening to feedback from special interest groups and individual motorists regarding the changes going forward, whether it be with the specific implementation of the current developments or ideas for further improvements. As an insurer that specialises in providing a range of coverage options designed for the needs of disabled people too, we would also love to hear your opinions. Please, tell us what you think – either by commenting or by getting in touch with us directly, your input is going to be invaluable for shaping the initiative’s future course.

If you have any direct enquiries, you can contact the Highways England Customer Contact Centre on 0300 123 5000.

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