Communication support for travelling – trains

This is deliberately timed non-COVID-19 content; sometimes it’s useful to think about other things for a while. Though COVID-19 wise, it is worth considering what is written here in preparation for non-confident public transport users starting to use it again, when it becomes available for more general use. Some people may be sufficiently out of practice that they’ll need a bit of help regaining their previous level of confidence.

This isn’t a post about English National Concessionary Passes (for free bus travel) or Disabled Persons Railcards or the equivalent ones for the National Express. I’ll write about them some other time, but they are reasonably well known.

What’s less easy to find and thus is something I want to write about is the plethora of different documents / cards / badges made as communication support aids by the various different companies that run transport services and by some Local Authorities.

This post contains a lot of links; if you notice any that become broken over time I would like to know about it. It is also a post I am likely to update and edit over time anyway as what’s available changes.

Starting with the Local Authorities; some English LAs (but by no means all) have created travel wallets in bright colours that can be used by people to indicate to the driver (or guard) on local public transport that they might need additional help or time. Some of the time they’re particularly advertised to learning disabled people or to people with ASD. Sometimes they’re restricted to adults (rather than including older children who are learning how to travel independently) At the time I’m writing, I’m aware of:

Northern Ireland, where there is a yellow access travel wallet

Scotland, where they have the Thistle Card

Wales, where there is an orange wallet scheme that runs throughout the country.

Devon, where there are orange access wallets

Durham, where they operate the Bridge Card Scheme (which also operates in Tyne and Wear and Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees

Hertfordshire, where there are orange travel wallets

Worcestershire, where there are pink travel wallets

These are useful so far as they go, so if you live in one of the relevant areas, it’s worth considering asking for one. It is a shame, that there is no consistency in colour for these wallets – which will make them less useful for people who travel longer distances by public transport, as they may not be recognised further away from home.

These travel wallets are usually supplied together with journey assistance cards (discussed towards the end of this page) to enable you to signal your need for assistance to bus drivers and staff on trains.

Travel support cards

Now for the travel support cards offered by some of the train operators. These look to me like they are of relatively limited use for most people, as the emphasis is on recording a name and telephone number of a friend/relative/carer/PA who can be contacted for you if you get into difficulties. Some have space to record how you would like staff to help you if you are in difficulties. This makes them potentially useful, to my mind for,

  • people who lose the ability to speak when in difficulties (whether by reason of a panic attack, high anxiety, seizures)
  • people who aren’t very good at using spoken English generally (eg. some primary BSL users, people with poorly comprehensible speech, people at early stages of learning English)
  • those learning how to travel independently who want a note of what they might ask staff if they experience difficulties.
  • some learning disabled people

In nearly all of these cases, the individual’s difficulty with communicating is unlikely to be restricted to just difficulties communicating about transport, so a separate card to show to a train guard / bus driver may not be as of as much use as a more comprehensive solution Medic Alert bracelet or necklace or a communication book or an Apple/Andoid App to support communication.

Transport operators offering such cards at the time of writing, include:

Gatwich Express/ Great Northern / Southern /Thameslink (these operators have a common card)

London Northwestern Railway

Scotrail offer both badges and a communication aid card

South Eastern Railway

South Western Railway

Transport for London

West Midlands Railway

Some other national schemes that are potentially useful communication aids when travelling.

Blue Assist Cards – allow you to create a text message on paper/mobile phone that could be shown to someone to ask for help.

Helping Hand Cards these are associated with Brighton & Hove, but aren’t restricted to that area – credit card sized cards are produced to order, to the user’s requirements.

JAM Card– intended to communicate “Just A Minute” for people who need to take a bit longer when communicating or completing tasks.

Sunflower lanyards and other items – used to indicate any sort of hidden disability. These are becoming relatively well known, meaning that they could easily act as magnets for pickpockets and other people with less than pleasant intentions. It’s worth looking at the more discrete items than the lanyards eg. the travel wallets, pin badges, wrist bands.

Priority seating

Some of the train operating companies have created schemes to issue priority cards or badges to particular groups of people who hav difficulty standing during train journeys. I haven’t included reference here to the schemes aimed at people who are pregnant. Some of these cover buses and trams as well. The ones requiring documentation probably involve too much bureaucracy for anybody who is able / confident enough to ask for a seat, as they convey no entitlement to a seat and are intended as an aid to persuade other passengers to give up their seats. But there are probably people for whom the bureaucracy burden is worth it, so it is worth knowing about them.

c2c – require certain documentation before they will issue a badge indicating a need for a priority seat.

Great Northern Rail – require certain documentation before they will issue a priority seat card

Great Western Railway require certain documentation before they will issue a priority seat card

Greater Anglia are offering two varieties of “please offer me a seat” badges at certain train stations / on request. They also offer a priority seating card on receipt of certain documentation.

London Northwestern Railway – are unclear about whether they require documentation to issue priority seating cards.

Nottingham City Transport (together with Nottingham City Council and Nottingham Express Transit) offer both “please offer me a seat” badges and “happy to stand for you badges” to anybody who wants them.

South Eastern Railway – require certain documentation before they will issue a priority seat card and badge.

Southern – require certain documentation before they will issue a priority seat card

Thameslink Railway – require certain documentation before they will issue a priority seat card.

Transport for Greater Manchester send out “please offer me a seat” badges on request.

Transport for London – send out “please offer me a seat” badges and cards to anyone in Greater London and South East England who asks for one.

West Midlands Network offer “please offer me a seat” badges and cards on request to people who live in the west midlands.

West Midlands Railway – require certain documentation before they will issue a priority seat card

Transport Assistance Cards – buses

A number of the bigger bus companies have produced Transport Assistance Cards, generally in the form of .pdf files that can be downloaded and printed, so you can cut out and add the relevant cards to your travel wallet so they can be shown to the bus driver. They are mostly repetitive, with the occasional card that’s specific to one operator. You could always go for a blank piece of paper/card with your own message.

Like the journey assistance cards made by the train operating companies these are probably most useful for people who have difficulties communicating in spoken English. These ones are also potentially useful where:

  • you want to use written communication to avoid drawing other passengers’ attention to your communication [eg. you might want the driver to know to wait till you’ve sat down before moving off, without disclosing your balance difficulties to everyone else on the bus]
  • you have to do a lot of communicating about your needs and it helps you to not have to do all of it verbally / to use a visual reinforcement.

Some of the cards I’ve found are:

Generic request form – for sending to your local bus company if you don’t have printing facilities.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport make two generic pages of cards, intended for bus companies to “personalise” – page one and page two


First Group

Nottingham City Transport

Travel South Yorkshire provide printable cards in both colour and black and white.