Bus drivers to train blindfolded

First Scotland's David Guthrie and Graham Houliston get their training under way. Picture: SNS Group

First Scotland's David Guthrie and Graham Houliston get their training under way. Picture: SNS Group

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Hundreds of bus drivers across the Lothians will be given training while wearing a blindfold under a Scottish-first scheme designed to help out blind passengers.

First Scotland East is becoming the country’s first bus operator to provide drivers with specialised training intended to assist people who are blind or partially sighted to use public transport with confidence.

About 800 drivers from the east coast company will receive the training this month.

Blindfolds will be used to cover the eyes of drivers to get them to play the role of a blind passenger and come to grips with the challenges faced by those without their sight.

They will be forced to negotiate obstacles in getting on and off a bus while wearing the blindfold.

Drivers will also be told to either verbally guide or physically assist customers that have problems with their sight to their seats. Passengers with vision loss will also be told when their stop is approaching.

The industry-first training package has been designed under the guidance of charity Guide Dogs.

First Scotland East training manager Mike Wilson said: “We are setting new standards of customer service across our operations in the UK and 
I’m proud that First Scotland East is at the forefront of 
that.”

About 180,000 people across Scotland suffer from significant sight loss. Roughly 36,000 of those are voluntarily registered as blind or partially sighted. Training for bus drivers has been developed in line with the My Guide pilot scheme to create a national standard of sighted guiding.

Pam Stringer, a sighted guide ambassador for Guide Dogs, said she hoped having better trained drivers would convince those with sight problems to venture out on a bus.

She said: “Freedom and independence are a crucial part of life, regardless of how much you can or cannot see.”

A spokesman for sight loss charity RNIB Scotland 
welcomed the move, saying: “People with sight loss are on low incomes and rely on public transport to get around.

“For many, their local bus is a lifeline for getting to work, to the shops, to medical appointments and for keeping up with family and friends.

“The local bus can be the only affordable way they can get around independently, yet we often hear of buses not stopping because the passenger waiting can’t see it in time to put their hand out. Catching a bus should not be a sight test.”

Helpful drivers make life easier

haymarket resident Ronald Bernard has been blind since the age of five and says getting around the Lothians is far from a nightmare thanks to helpful bus drivers.

The 52-year-old, who works as a receptionist at Royal Blind, catches a bus at least once a week.

He said many drivers were already more than willing to help out, adding: “You’ll find that the bus drivers will actually announce where they are, where they’re stopping and that gives a blind person an idea of where they’re going to go.”

Mr Bernard said the biggest challenge for a blind person catching public transport was knowing the bus number and route, and finding the right stop.