Communication access on trains: a qualitative exploration of the perspectives of passengers with communication disabilities

Christine Bigby, Hilary Johnson, Robyn O’Halloran, Jacinta Douglas, Denise West, Emma Bould

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The often-invisible access barriers to public transport encountered by people with communication disabilities, who have sensory, language or cognitive impairments have gained little attention. This study investigated the experiences of people with communication disabilities on a rail network in Victoria, Australia to identify the barriers they encountered. Methods: Twenty-one passengers with communication disabilities participated in either an individual interview or a focus group. They talked about their experiences of train travel, factors that made travelling difficult and suggestions for making travelling easier. A six-phase approach to thematic analysis was conducted to identify themes. Results: The difficulties identified in travelling fell into three themes: (a) variable accessibility of information, (b) negative impact of a large and complex service system, and (c) an uncertain culture of help seeking and giving. Only two passengers had ever complained but all identified ways to improve the service. They suggested, better staff training, more use of communication tools, mechanisms to enable passengers to seek help, and attention to making information easier to understand. Conclusions: For transport to be accessible to people with communication disabilities many different types of adjustment are required. Using multiple modes of communication with attention to understandability and consistent responses from public contact staff skilled to interact in multiple ways, may be the most flexible and effective means of responding to difficulties posed by the complex and unpredictable nature of train services.Implications for RehabilitationPeople with communication disabilities are a diverse group which includes people with physical, sensory, speech, language, and cognitive impairments.Public transport services need to provide a range of communication adjustments to enable people with communication disabilities to travel successfully.Transport services must retain and refine accessible alternatives to online information and booking systems for people with cognitive impairments to avoid widening the digital divide.Frequent and unavoidable changes to train services mean that skilled public contact staff, access to information and a culture of help seeking and giving are particularly important in facilitating access for people with communication disabilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-132
Number of pages8
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • adults
  • Communication
  • communication access
  • disability
  • transport

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