elderly couple

Tackling Social Isolation: The value of Accessible Vehicle Transport

By Rachael Buckley

While this year’s John Lewis Christmas advert received just as much attention and admiration as previous efforts, it also had a more serious and sincere message concerning loneliness among the elderly. In fact, the high-street retailer teamed-up with Age UK to help raise awareness that older people can sometimes go a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.

But in addition to this television advertisement, there are a few schemes and initiatives in place that already reach out to people and communities most at risk of social isolation. Many of which would not be able to operate without modified vehicles, such as wheelchair accessible minibuses, which help the elderly and disabled get together, socialise, and have a good time.

The need for inclusive and accessible transport

Even though social isolation is a universal issue, the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee recently produced a report entitled “Age and Social Isolation,” which identified the need for inclusive and accessible transport.

In evidence supplied to this report, John MacDonald from the Community Transport Association said, “We argued that when older people are asked about the facilities they need, transport always comes near the top if the list. When older people are left without transport, it affects their ability to get out and about and be part of their communities. This in turn can lead to social isolation.

“Getting out of the house with a sense of purpose provides an important source of enjoyment and activity for older people and without inclusive and accessible transport this is at risk.”

MacDonald also goes on to add that this is an issue that affects both younger and older people, as social isolation can be caused by bullying and discrimination, particularly against “young disabled people, LGBT people, and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

Along with awareness, another problem is the stigma surrounding social isolation and loneliness. However, even if these obstacles are overcome, remote or isolated communities still need appropriate transport to bring them all together. Thankfully, several initiatives have recognised this fact and are proving to be shining examples of what can be achieved.

Examples of inclusive and accessible transport

During its 13 years of service, the community minibus run by Alston Moor Community Transport has managed to tackle social isolation but also transformed the lives of numerous people.

After meeting to discuss how community lives could be improved across Cumbria, the Alston Moor Community Transport committee found that hiring a suitable vehicle was not economical viable. But by buying its own minibus, Alston Moor could transport elderly people as well as disabled children and their parents around the local area and further afield.

“It’s about being able to take people places where they would not have gone otherwise, to events either sporting or cultural events or day trips out, which would otherwise be quite difficult to do and it’s the social interaction of travelling together which makes a difference,” said Hazel Hanley, the group’s Secretary.

Another example is the Action for Deafness (AFD) minibus, which aims to reduce social isolation among deaf and hard of hearing people. The vehicle can carry eleven people and accommodate two wheelchair users, while assistance dogs and their carers travel free of charge.

Finally, the Gloucestershire Minibus Scheme is available to a range of organisations that would not otherwise have access to transport. But along with issues surrounding social isolation, this particularly initiative also increases income for the county’s minibus-owning organisations and makes them available to a wider range of users too.

So, while there is a long way to go before social isolation becomes a thing of the past for the elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable groups, these examples prove that an actionable solution does exist.

Featured image credit: Fernando Mafra, Flickr. Licensed under creative commons 2.0