The history of design thesis

Testing a wheelchair spaceEverything we do becomes history, however significant might be to ourselves or to each other – a legacy, if you will. I’ve had several opportunities in my work to do this in the past through partnerships that we have. One particular partnership is with a rail operator. I received an email in December from a colleague I’ll call Sheila.

The email asked the following:

  • Do I have a passport?
  • Do I fly?

If the answer was yes, then I was to phone my colleague immediately. I did so and after establishing that 29 seconds from clicking send is immediately, I was invited to travel to Switzerland with the company to help with the design input of the new trains for a franchise. I wasn’t to be alone – a colleague with sensory needs had also been invited. The brief was clear – to look at the proposals for people with mobility and sensory needs to identify if they are appropriate. We were invited look for any improvements that can be made to further offer a better experience to customers. Our lived and professional experiences were key to our visit, to assist with the design proposals and offer our constructive thoughts.

A FLIRT train in Konstanz, GermanyThe new trains, which are of a new type to the UK, are made by Stadler and will be in service for the next 20-30 years. The trains (called FLIRT) are commonplace in Europe and now are coming to the UK. The new trains will have 3 different applications – airport, intercity and regional. The airport and intercity stock share one design and the regional trains another.

Arriving at the factory in Bussnang in the morning, we were introduced to the rolling stock types, which will be for the intercity, airport and regional trains. There are two types of wheelchair area, with the intercity and airport trains able to carry three wheelchair users in their chairs and the bi-mode regional trains carrying two wheelchair users. A mock up had been prepared (as the body shells are shortly to enter build phase), which was able to simulate the carriages and their internal layout differences.

There are some crucial differences due to the body alone. The train is “low floor”, which means that in the majority of cases the step may be as low as 100mm. This might also mean a step down. Stadler were able to simulate the different platform heights to identify the challenges of using a ramp from different heights and different degrees of incline. We discussed the elements of ingress and egress – the fact that the body has a sliding step is a new element that brings benefits. The carriage, with a lower floor, has a more pronounced curve in the lower part of the side of the body wall (to accommodate for passing through stations at speed). This means that the buttons at a metre from the floor can be reached by leaning forward.

The train, with its low floor design, is likely to not even require a ramp in some locations. It brings the possibility that completely independent travel could be closer than we realise – no ramp required. The design in place also looks to enable easier communication between on board staff and the customer.

Sat on the toilet lid making notesAt both the mock up and the meeting table, we utilised train plans to identify how wheelchair users may travel and discussed about the need for small tables, capable of holding a coffee. We went through how information may be displayed to the customers and issues conveyed through automated announcements, visual information and manual announcements. Colour contrast, toilet doors and call-for-aid buttons were discussed at length, identifying how small changes can make big differences. We discussed about how wheelchair users may transfer to a toilet (yes, there are two options now – side transfer or facing). What happens if a person falls off the toilet? What about washing your hands? Flushing the toilet? Forgetting to lock the door? Nothing was left out.

With the regional trains, we identified how small and large changes offer a completely different experience to a person travelling. We looked at how the position of priority seats and wheelchair spaces then led to other (non-disability) elements to be considered, giving an improved experience for customers without mobility issues. Suggesting one change meant that wooden panels were produced, measured, marked and used to show that the theory behind suggestions were possible. We discussed tip up seats, traveling with family, traveling alone, the need for people to have choice for their journey (which, to the credit of all involved, had already been considered). The accessible toilet now sits away from the wheelchair user on the opposite side of the vestibule door from the wheelchair spaces, for example. On intercity services, the buffet is within eye sight. 240v and USB power plugs will be available.

All the while, my colleague with a sensory need was giving her own feedback and input, feeding back about how she may undertake a journey, how her guide dog would be involved in her travel needs and how she would identify a priority seat. We looked at the internal colours in use and how these could affect a person with visual requirements. Audio and Visual displays were shown and positions noted to make it easy for a customer to find what they need to know. Automated announcements and visual announcements will help people who have hearing impairments.

I’m covering all this in a short space with no intention of discredit or not mentioning anything. Rail professionals were listening, writing, measuring to achieve the suggestions . I was impressed at the seriousness that they were showing in looking to gather all of the data and identify that they had interpreted our thoughts and ideas correctly. Action lists were drawn up immediately and signed off at the end of the day. At no point did it ever feel like “lip service” either – we are professionals with experience and the teams wanted to learn.

The outcome is that today we wrote history. A train interior was designed with people who are going to use it for the next 20 years. We were given the opportunity to have a positive impact on a project and I truly hope that we delivered. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the partnership that I have through my work with the train service provider and my thanks must go to them for the opportunity. My gratitude cannot be measured.

I look forward to the delivery in the next few years. I’ll be proud to look at the train and know that I’ve had that smallest of hands in a huge and significant project.

The Right of the Bay Conundrum

As I write, the BBC News channel is showing the message that the Supreme Court has decided in favour of Doug Pauley and wheelchair users in the “Who has the right to the space on the bus” argument. None of the coverage is dealing with the biggest issues in this:

  • How will this be enforced?
  • How can the industry properly convey the priority to customers?
  • What will be required to improve the situation?

Ultimately, a driver is going to be put in the middle and therefore at risk of passenger dissatisfaction or worse, potential violence. Is this right? Of course not. How can this potential situation be mitigated against?

In my humble opinion, there are three things:

  1. The bus industry chose to market the wheelchair space and accessible buses as “buggy friendly” or “buggy buses”. That marketing now needs to change and be clear.
  2. The bus industry chose to invite buggies on board. The internal layout now needs to change where appropriate to give space to both buggies and wheelchairs.
  3. Customers need to be reminded they can help each other – assisting lifting a buggy into a luggage rack, giving up a seat, considering our fellow traveller.

Regardless of the arguments of who is paying a fare or using an ENCTS pass (which is a separate discussion), everyone needs to get from their bus stop to the destination. How they get there is down to us as an industry – we can get the customer there either seething in anger or with a smile and customer satisfaction.

Alternatively, we can let the law makers decide for us (again).

The Feng Shui of the Class 321 equilibrium

On Friday 16 December, I was invited to join Greater Anglia aboard a newly refurbished class 321 trainset.  This unit in particular has been internally refreshed to meet the needs of the 21st century customer.  Built in the 1980s using the Mk3 bodyshell, there has been very limited redesign of the internal layout… until now.

My own experience has shown me that a clean vehicle can hide a multitude of sins, so I was keen to have a good crawl all over to identify the pitfalls I could – not to shame, instead to seek rectification and improve the new product further.  I believe in quick wins, too – usually the simplest improvement can be the cheapest and best.

For me, as a wheelchair user, the door I should was obvious from the traditional blue symbols – what awaited me was anything but traditional.  Once on board, I had a choice of turning left into the central saloon, or right to the carriage end and a space beside the lavatory.  Let me emphasis that word again a moment: choice.

Daddydoink in the wheelchair spaceThe space is at the minimum the standard dimensions and is slightly larger in the central saloon.  In both cases there are several tip-up seats available, both also with a fold-away table.  Yes, you read that correctly – a table.  This is invaluable, especially if you get hand shake or need to be able to put your sandwich down a moment.  The table would take a seat out of availability and can only be used if the seat is empty.  Opposite the wheelchair space beside the toilet is a luggage space, big enough for two large cases or eight small, laid flat.  There are seats opposite (proper seats) for friends and family, meaning friends no longer have to give up a tip-up seat for another wheelchair user.  There is a choice between sitting next to the toilet or not.

Toilet door entrance with no lipThe toilet is a standard loo, with both a toilet bowl and a sink.  There is a baby change table and a multitude of signs warning and instructing as to the use of various buttons.  The entrance has no lip (and therefore is a level ingress/egress).  The buttons are clear and the labeling is due to be improved to be clear that unlocking the door opens it, too.  Moving from a train with no loo to this is a huge step forward (or not, as there is no step).

The doors come with audio warnings and buttons at a decent height.  The width of the vestibules has expanded by over 6 inches, giving additional space to both wheelchair users and fellow passengers.  The grab poles that previously restricted access have been moved closer to the vehicle walls and further apart, giving over a meter of space for wheelchairs to get through.

The seats are now higher off the floor and have a good angle between the seat and back for a comfortable journey.  This means it will be easier for an ambulant disabled person to stand from them.  There are grab handles at nearly every seat.

All of this means a journey is very possible.  A journey can be a very emotional thing for a disabled person, too.  By making this easier, with better wheelchair spaces, more priority seats, higher seats – the emotions are positive ones.

This train is not a case of too little, too late.  It’s a case of benchmarking what can be achieved, with the life of this train now extended beyond 2020.  The re-traction project will only extend that life further.

The question is, who’s going to follow suit and copy this brilliant bit of work?  And for Greater Anglia, what is the next good idea?

Photos below – for use please contact me via twitter or a comment.

Refurbished Class 321 – Greater Anglia

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Press release – Please help the New Lego Routemaster prototype become a reality

10 October 2016 – For immediate release

Please help New Lego Routemaster prototype become a reality

A New Routemaster made entirely of Lego has entered the market and its ‘creator’ Dominic Lund-Conlon is calling for the transport sector to help him encourage a rollout of the fleet.

The 10 cm tall vehicle, dubbed the Legomaster, was made by the father of three and Passenger Transport Manager at Essex County Council, following a request from “people smaller than him” to create something London-centric for them. With the Legomaster in mind, his customers Monkey, Nuzzle and Scratch requested inside capacity for Lego passengers, opening doors and the ability to withstand ‘play’.

Having showed the resulting prototype to colleagues who suggested he approached Lego to consider building it and adding it to their range, Dominic has registered the concept on the Lego Ideas website.

“There has been a Routemaster renaissance in London and beyond in recent years and if my Legomaster does enter the Lego market, I believe the product has great potential to put the idea of the bus into young people’s lives as something they can use in everyday life,” commented Dominic.

“However, standing in the way of the product going any further is the need for 10,000 ‘supports’ within a year on the Lego Ideas website from people who would like to see it on the shelves and I would urge anyone and everyone who thinks this is a good idea to add their support,” continued Dominic.

You can support the innovative Legomaster project by visiting http://bit.ly/ldn-bus and clicking ‘support’ once you have registered your basic details.

 

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] The Legomaster is Dominic’s brainchild and has not been endorsed by The Lego Group, Transport for London or Wright Bus.

[2] Support can only be given by visiting http://bit.ly/ldn-bus or https://ideas.lego.com/projects/154570

[3] A high resolution image of the vehicle is attached; additional images can be supplied on request.

[4] For further information, please contact via social media: Twitter @daddydoink; Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/creativedoink

New Bus for London – Made from Lego

How this came about

New Bus for London out of LegoAs you can imagine, my children spend a lot of time with our Lego collection.  Recently, they asked me to build them a Lego bus based on those seen in London, following a trip to the capital and the result was the bus you can see here.

The outside has used Lego Bricks to replicate the style of the New Bus for London whilst the internals allows minifigs to be seated. There is also a wheelchair space for those with mobility issues.  The roof and top deck can be removed to enable access to the lower deck which means that it is easy to allow people to sit downstairs.  The destination panel is blank to allow customisation, either by Lego or the user.

New Bus for London - By calflier001 - TRANSPORT FOR LONDON METRO LINE WRIGHTBUS LT CLASS BUSES THE SO CALLED BORISMASTERS AT HAMSTEAD HEATH BUS STATION LONDON SEP 2013Uploaded by MainFrame, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28882192

New Bus for London – By calflier001

Because there is nothing else like this out there, I’ve decided to ask Lego to make it a set available to others.  I believe that this would sit well on the shelves of the Transport Museum and in Lego Stores around the world.  What I need next is 10,000 “supporters” – people who agree that it’s a good idea. This does not mean you have to buy it.  It only asks you to sign up to the Lego Ideas website, support the idea and answer 3 questions.  You won’t be bombarded to buy the product afterwards.

Click here to open the Lego Ideas New Bus for London page

New Bus For London

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The Impaired Human Flight Principle

I’m incredibly fortunate to sometimes be invited out to events that interest me with my hobbies once in a while that also interlink with work.  Today was one of those days, when I got an email two or so weeks ago inviting people to join them for a Stansted Airport PRM (Passengers with Restricted Mobility) Day, undertaken with Omniserve.  The idea of the day is for you to ask questions, have a poke about and discover what the airport is able to offer a customer who needs a little bit more help than where their gate might be.

Bruce was able to give clear answers to those there

Bruce was able to give clear answers to those there

So, with my passport and a bit of information about where to park, I went off for the day.  Meeting everyone at the terminal assistance desk, we were ably led by Bruce and Sheila (see the naming policy) through to security, armed with visitors passes and our passports.

I’ve only been through security once at Stansted before and the last time was at about 7:00, half asleep.  So this was quite a good experience for me.  A male security guard gave me a good check over in a thorough and efficient manner whilst making sure the airport was not at risk.  It took all of 5 minutes or so and I was through and free to collect my camera, phone and laptop.

Ambi-lift

Ambi-lift

We moved through the newly laid out retail and restaurant areas – there is a lot of work going on at the moment, all evidence of the huge investment of over £80M by the Manchester Airport Group. Sheila and Bruce took us along to stand 50, where an ambi-lift (think – box on the back of a truck with scissor lift) was waiting… along with a Boeing 737-800, courtesy of Ryanair.

Bruce showed us how the ambi-lift process worked.  Provided by Omniserve (a contracted service provider), the system enables passengers who are PRM to access the plane from the terminal.  Usually a passenger is assisted out on to the apron, where the ambilift has a tail lift to raise the passenger to access the “box” on the back of the truck.  The box then lifts and a front “bridge” extended to the aircraft.  Whilst in the box, you transfer to an aisle chair and then are lifted into the cabin.

Discussing needs onboard

The whole process can be done in minutes and has a variety of tools available, including hoists, slings and transfer boards to help a customer get on the plane.

After the aircraft, we went through the arrivals process, looking at the route in through arrivals and exiting on to the forecourt.

Two hours has now passed – a lot to take in already.  A short break and then we had some presentations from Bruce and Clive from Omniserve as well as Mick from Manchester Airport Group.  It was rather interesting, learning that about 20% assistance requests are ad-hoc every month, for example.  Clive, who leads on the training programme for Omniserve, made it clear that the Social Model of Disability is at the core of the Equality Awareness Training.  He made no bones about not having all the answers, citing the need to keep relevant and use outside sources to improve and expand their training. It was also very evident that the training goes beyond a wheelchair or person having no vision.  It’s customer focused, knowing about both visible and hidden disabilities, including mental health and learning disabilities.  It was incredibly refreshing to hear someone ‘get it’ without having to be prompted to churn out the answers like a machine.

Mick then presented on behalf of Stansted.  He gave a true and frank explanation of some of the challenges faced when looking at improving the facilities on offer.  It was good to hear that the first consideration is not always the cost – inconvenience when replacing existing solutions, meaning customers may have a longer journey from point to point, for example, takes a central focus.  Wayfinding is a huge issue and has been centralised to remove the mix of signage as well as the development of a Wayfinding Strategy.  He also made it clear that although 80% of the existing issues were resolved, there was a hunger to get the other 20%.  Growing their market is crucial to their business strategy and to do that, it needs to be 100%.

Answering honestly and clearly, I really valued this Q&A session.  It wasn’t just lip-service – it was an open forum for potential and existing customers to learn, share and discover – building confidence to go and have positive experiences in the air.

If you get the chance to go and see one – I’d recommend it.

The design principle

I’ve often looked at the idea of using life as a canvas… some people go for tattoos in a way of showing their feelings, loves or thoughts.

So, today I was pondering about how I can use my own extensions as a canvas.

Wheelchair canvasAs part of this I was curious – what would I display on my wheels?  I then got to researching – how would I get it there?  LEDs firing depending on the position of the wheel?

It’s an incredibly geeky moment – one I decided to document so that I wouldn’t forget to come back to.

The Annual Anniversary Anomaly

CandlesBelieve it or not, I’m supposed to be celebrating another milestone in that timeline known as “getting older”[citation needed] soon.  I am struggling with this though.  It’s not even a number that’s considered important in the scale of celebrating a particular date in the calendar.

I’m struggling with it in part because there isn’t the magic there – no build up, no excitement. I’m not even convinced that its going to be much of an event on the day.  I didn’t even realise it was approaching until someone reminded me yesterday – it still feels like its an age away.

My point in all of this is that pretty much I suspect this year is going to be just cake in the office and a few messages on my Facebook wall[citation needed].  I guess actually I should be grateful I got this far enjoying each year as much as I could.  I don’t even know why I’m missing the magic – I hate being the centre of attention when it comes to blowing out the candles.

I think it is probably down to a simple fact.

I’m getting old and very possibly grumpy.

The Stamina Induction Experiment

EphedrineIt’s been about six months since I started taking some medication to assist with my stamina levels since re-diagnosis.  This drug is called Ephedrine Hydrochloride.  Sound familiar?  It should – it is used in asthma medication a lot.

It is little known though that if taken as a tablet it doesn’t just cover the lungs.  In my case, it acts as a stamina agent to encourage my nerves to communicate a little bit longer than they could if I didn’t take this medication.

What has this meant?  Well, now I can actually stay awake past 22:00 for one thing.  My speech doesn’t go as slurred as it once did when I hit a point of energy depletion in my day.  I am able to concentrate more.  I can coordinate some of my movements better.

Its given me a bit more quality of life that I didn’t have before.  It has made my life better because of minute changes.

Worth it?  Definitely.

The Germanic Auto-mobile Technical Report

As a wheelchair using driver, there are some crucial things I need to know. Simple little things like “is the boot big enough?” My other favourites are things like “where are the buttons” and “will I still be sitting up if I go around a corner?”

So, recently I had the use of a 2014 Volkswagen Sharan.  It was the 2 litre turbo diesel with a 6 speed DSG gearbox, which packs around 138bhp – quite a punch for any vehicle of the Passat/Mondeo size or bigger.  This model was the basic “s” trim, which doesn’t have steering radio controls, cruise control or automatic lights/wipers.  What it does have is all round electric windows… and a lot of storage bins.

Getting into the car, the boot lip is flat – this is vital when lifting a chair in or out, especially if you sit on the boot lid to hoik your own wheels in or out of the car.  The boot itself accommodated my wheelchair laid down – if I wanted to stand the wheelchair up, I would need to remove the wheels though.  The sliding doors along the side mean that if I wanted to, inserting the chair in through the side would be a doddle, especially if you were to take the optional electric rear doors – expect to pay around £700 for those though.

Once in, the front seat is quite supportive for the driver.  The dials have a central read out of which gear you are in (the actual number, not just D for drive), enabling you to work out if you want to manually switch to go up or down in the gear box for whatever reason.  There is also an “S” selection for sport – which adjusts the ratios to give you a quicker response.  I found I never needed it.

Getting out on the road, its important to remember it’s wide – and I mean really wide. Once you have that mastered though, it is a very comfortable ride. I found that the engine pull was very good, especially when getting on to the motorway. The DAB radio picked up any station I could ask it to and the MDI connection to a USB stick was welcome.

My niggles?  There were a few – steering wheel controls for the stereo would have been nice, even on a basic car.  Automatic lights would be a welcome luxury, too. I don’t enjoy reaching about much and if you do need to stay in your seat and supported, then little things make a difference.

So – a verdict?  A great people carrier and lovely drive. Would I buy one?  If I could get the SE or better with the toys, yes I probably would – the sliding doors and huge boot make it a good vehicle to have.  I would consider its sister though – the Seat Alhambra.