Supporting passengers with neurodiversity

Friday, 19 March 2021

Neurodiversity celebration week, 15 – 21 March 2021

Neurodiversity celebration week aims to ‘flip the narrative’ on learning differences. While the celebration is predominantly aimed at schools and learning institutions, neurodiversity impacts people throughout their lives. It is not something someone ‘grows out of’, although they may find new ways of living with their differences over time.

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways our brains work and interpret information. It highlights the fact that people naturally think about things differently. We have different interests and motivations and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others. However, these differences can present barriers to the way people engage with society.

While neurodiversity may be easier to recognise in some people more than others, it is largely an invisible disability. Of all disabilities, around 80% are invisible.

According to the Department of Education, 15% of students in the UK have a learning difference, and around 70% of these students have faced bullying at some point as a result.

Neurodiversity covers a range of differences, including (but not limited to) Dyslexia, Autism and ADD/ADHD to name just a few. We might also consider people with other conditions such as Tourette’s and Dementia as neurodiverse too.

Helpful travel cards and lanyards available

We will carry thousands of neurodiverse people on our trains everyday. Not all these people will want to identify themselves as such, although some will. Some people may utilise initiatives such as the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard scheme, JAM cards or our Travel Support Cards. However, many won’t.

We need to make sure we are doing all we can to make our services and work as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Someone who is neurodiverse may not necessarily ask for or book passenger assistance when they travel, but they may still face some barriers when travelling by train (or any other mode of transport). There may be people you work with who are neurodiverse, but they may never disclose this. Unless there is a reason for this to become known – you may never know! That doesn’t mean that it impacts a person’s life any less.

How to support someone who is neurodiverse

This won’t be the same for everyone, but the challenges they face could include:

  • Finding comfort in routine. This could involve such as sitting in the same place on the train every time they travel, feeling more comfortable being assisted by the same person (or a number of people), or wanting their work area to be as they left it.
  • Being reliant on assistance being provided in a smooth and timely fashion.
  • Busy stations and trains becoming particularly unnerving. Most people don’t like being in busy places, but for some people, this could lead to severe anxiety, panic attacks or acting out of their normal character. Everyone’s response to this could be different.
  • Station lighting being overwhelming. We can’t assume a brightly lit area means this is accessible to everyone. Some people will get a headache under bright lighting, which may trigger a variety of responses.
  • Difficulties in understanding station information and signage. Some people may find it difficult to read customer information screens or posters in their everyday life. Others may be triggered by lighting, noise or crowds, which make them less able to process the world around them. We should always be looking out for those who may be distressed and may want or need assistance. A person may become disorientated or panicked.

While you might not be able to remove all these potential barriers, there are a number of things that you can do to support someone who is neurodiverse. This includes:

  • Being patient with them
  • Looking for signs of distress in those around you
  • Asking if and how you can offer assistance, without jumping to conclusions about what they might need.

Where can I find out more?

There are plenty of resources available to find out more about some of the neurodiverse conditions mentioned, as well as the many other ways someone may be neurodiverse. We have put together some links on some of these areas that you may find useful in our inclusion hub.

We would also like to improve our neurodivergent representation in our Stakeholder Equality Group. If you know of any passengers who might be interested in joining this group – they can email [email protected] for more information.

Our commitment to providing an accessible service for older and disabled passengers can be found on our Accessible Travel page – which includes our newly revised Accessible Travel Policy.