Avanti West Coast launches social media forum for disabled customers
The ‘Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast’ Facebook group connects passengers with each other in order to share their travel experiences.
Avanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to provide a dedicated social media forum for disabled customers. The forum enables passengers on the West Coast Main Line to connect with each other, as well as a dedicated social media team that has been assigned to provide specialist support.
Launching the group – called ‘Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast’ – on Facebook, the long-distance operator hopes to build an interactive online community that aims to help disabled customers directly, as well as give them an opportunity to help others with the benefits of their experience.
A private and visible group, it 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.
Additionally, 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 UK 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 that engages in regular dialogue.
“We believe that 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. We want to help them directly and enable them to help others, so everyone feels supported when planning or making a journey,” said Emma.
She added: “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 that 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 to 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.
The UK’s Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “Ensuring that 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.”
Daniel Doherty, Community Manager at Facebook, said: “Over 35 million people in the UK use Facebook groups every month as a powerful way to connect, share their interests, learn new things and support their communities. It’s great to see Avanti West Coast using this new Facebook group to connect and offer support to their disabled customers as the world begins to open up, helping them to feel confident when travelling again.”
Tony Jennings, Co-Chair of Avanti West Coast’s external Accessibility Panel, said: “Accessible social media plays an important part in welcoming and reassuring disabled people back onto the railways and helps with journey planning, giving us the confidence to travel. I’m really looking forward to being involved with the group.”