‘Hidden disability’ scheme trialled on Hastings trains

Southeastern has rolled out a scheme on its Hastings to Tonbridge services to raise awareness of 'hidden disabilities'. Picture: Southeastern
Southeastern has rolled out a scheme on its Hastings to Tonbridge services to raise awareness of 'hidden disabilities'. Picture: Southeastern

A pilot scheme which aims to generate increased awareness of supporting passengers with hidden disabilities, autism and learning difficulties has been trialled on the Hastings to Tonbridge route.

On Monday, Southeastern launched a trial of both the JAM card and Sunflower Lanyard scheme, to support passengers who require more time or assistance when travelling across services.

As part of wider measures being rolled out across its extensive train network, if successful, the schemes will be rolled out more widely across the 176 stations, covering 540-miles of railway network, which Southeastern operates.

The ‘Just A Minute’ or ‘JAM’ card can be specifically used by passengers with a learning difficulty, autism, or by those who simply find difficulty in communicating. It enables a user of the card to inform a member of staff in a discreet manner that they might need a bit more time and support. The JAM cards be obtained through a Southeastern ticket office on the Tonbridge to Hastings route.

Similarly, to cater to a wider range of passengers travelling with hidden disabilities, the Sunflower Lanyard is made to be worn when the person who has a hidden disability (like dementia, anxiety, chronic fatigue or indeed autism), feel they need Southeastern employees to be aware they may need extra help when their condition may not be obvious.

There is no qualifying list of conditions these initiatives apply to and being able to access a lanyard or JAM card.

Alongside both schemes, Southeastern has hosted a series of internal training sessions for all staff who will be working directly with members of the public; whether this be in knowing how to effectively assist a passenger travelling with Dementia or understanding the best way to approach, connect with and support passengers, who have a hidden disability.

Tonbridge Area Manager, Natalie Leister, is working with Southeastern’s Accessibility and Inclusion Manager, Justin Ryan, to lead the push for greater awareness of many of these conditions. Natalie has a very personal link to the initiative and has taken an open stance on her desire to inform and influence change, driven by her experiences with her son, who was this year diagnosed with Autism.

Natalie Leister, Southeastern Area Manager, said: “When the consultant discussed my son’s diagnosis I’ll be completely honest, I cried. I don’t know why, it was a mixture of relief but also fear – I instantly worried about what was going to happen next.

“When it came to work, his diagnosis made me question the way we look at things as employees at Southeastern. A school boy with autism could quite easily be misunderstood by staff who are unaware of certain behaviours. By providing all staff on the Tonbridge to Hastings route with additional training, and by having “champions”, we can ensure they are knowledgeable and aware to hidden disabilities. I’m hoping that the trial will be a huge success and we can then roll it out across the network,”

Nusrat Ghani, Minister for Accessibility in the Department for Transport, has said: “All passengers should have equal access to our rail network, and should be able to travel confidently, easily and with no extra cost. That’s why we are committed to ensuring support is on hand for those passengers who have additional needs, and I welcome these latest initiatives that will help make the rail network more accessible for those with hidden disabilities.”