An AccessAble survey in progress
An AccessAble survey in progress

Highways England has confirmed it is introducing two services, SignLive and AccessAble, to help disabled people use England’s motorways and major A roads.

SignLive will help the Deaf community communicate with Highways England using British Sign Language, while AccessAble will see the introduction of access guides to help explain the facilities offered at motorway service areas.

The government-owned company charged with operating, maintaining and improving England’s motorways and major A roads confirmed the new services on the International Day of Sign Languages in September.

According to Highways England, it is part of its commitment to making travel easier for those travelling with a disability.

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Highways England Customer Service Director, Melanie Clarke said: “We always encourage everyone to plan their journeys before setting off and appreciate that for some people this isn’t as easy as for others.

“That’s why we’re launching new services, to break down barriers and help people reliably plan and feel confident about their journeys. We’ll continue our work to improve facilities in collaboration with the expertise of the Roads for All Forum members.”

Highways England established the Roads for All Forum in 2018, bringing together a wide range of organisations that represent, or provide services to, disabled road users. The forum champions accessibility and inclusivity as England’s roads are developed.

SignLive will enable anyone who is a British Sign Language (BSL) user to contact with Highways England’s Customer Contact Centre, which is responsible for providing planning advice, information about roadworks and traffic conditions and assistance to people who have broken down.

The free SignLive service connects deaf users with an online professional BSL interpreter, who will contact Highways England on their behalf and translate the conversation between them and a Highways England contact centre advisor.

The new service will aim to support the estimated 150,000 people in the UK that use British Sign Language (BSL) as their main or sole means of communication.

Joel Kellhofer, Director at SignLive said: “SignLive are delighted to be working with Highways England to make the organisation more accessible for the Deaf community. They provide a vital service and we’re happy that British Sign Language users can get in touch more easily.”

Highways England has also joined up with AccessAble, which provides accessibility information on thousands of venues across the UK and Ireland via a free App.

The collaboration will see it include information on the over 100 motorway services areas in England, which will be surveyed to determine the accessibility of key areas including parking, toilets, petrol stations, shops and restaurants.

The first survey took place at Watford Gap on 5 August, with all 113 Access Guides due to launch in early 2021.

David Livermore, Director of Business Development at AccessAble said: “We are delighted to be working with Highways England on this ground-breaking initiative to deliver a world class standard of access information across the service area network. Highways England shares our commitment to user-led service development and improving access and customer experiences for the UK’s 18 million disabled people and carers.”

The project will also see the creation of Virtual Access Guides, which uses 360-degree imagery to enable people to travel the route to key facilities, like accessible toilets and changing places, so they can find out exactly what to expect when they arrive.

“The project will not only give people all the information they need to plan a trip but also support Highways England and Motorway Service Operators to see how facilities could be improved in the future,” added David.

“We are particularly looking forward to working in collaboration with disabled people and disability organisations who are experts in this space to ensure the service is the best it can be.”

The focus on accessibility on England’s roads follows the government’s investment into Changing Places facilities on Motorways and A roads with the opening of a multimillion fund.

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