Avanti West Coast
Rail user Charlie Zivanovic with Himesh Patel, Revenue Protection Officer at Avanti West Coast.

Avanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to provide a dedicated social media forum for its disabled customers, which aims to build an interactive online community and enable independent travel for all.

The exclusive social media forum on Facebook was designed with the aim of building an interactive online community for disabled people travelling on West Coast Main Line and to improve their journey experience.

The private and visible Facebook group called ‘Accessible Rail Travel with Avanti West Coast’ offers a support network where valuable insights, as well as information are shared to enable independent travel for all.

Members and content can only be viewed on the social media forum by those who have been permitted access to the group. Disabled customers who are planning or making a journey will then be able to connect with other travellers, as well as with people who have a shared understanding of disability and rail travel.

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The group can also be used by members to contact Avanti West Coast directly – making it easier to receive direct support from the specialist 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 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 engaging in regular dialogue.

“We believe 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 both help them directly and enable them to help others, so everyone feels supported when planning or making a journey,” said Emma.

“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 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 recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people.

The operator has confirmed that its social media team has also received 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.

UK Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Ensuring 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.”

Anyone interested in joining the group can visit the Facebook page and request to join it. A video about the Facebook group can be viewed on YouTube.

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https://i1.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Avanti_West_CoasT_Facebook_Group_1.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1https://i1.wp.com/thiis.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Avanti_West_CoasT_Facebook_Group_1.jpg?resize=150%2C150&ssl=1Liane McIvorGovernment & Local AuthoritiesNewsroomSector Newsaccessible,Avanti West Coast,disabled,Facebook,Social Media,travellersAvanti West Coast has become the first UK train operator to provide a dedicated social media forum for its disabled customers, which aims to build an interactive online community and enable independent travel for all. The exclusive social media forum on Facebook was designed with the aim of building an...News, views & products for mobility, access and independent living professionals