Deaf travel: Tips for the train, plane and automobiles
The worse my hearing loss has become, the more I have lost my confidence when it comes to traveling alone to an unfamiliar place.
Here are a few strategies I’ve developed to help make journeys less stressful.
When I travel by train, I research as much information as I can about the journey in advance. I like to know all the planned stops along the train route, so I can keep track of how far I am from my destination each time we stop. (Not all trains I travel on have visual displays announcing the next stop, so I find having my list helps me to be prepared and not get as stressed.) I make sure I have my watch and mobile phone with me so I can keep an eye on the time, so when we get close to the expected arrival time, I can start getting my things together and ready to leave the train.
Buying a ticket for train travel has got much easier since the advent of online sales. Buying online takes away all the stress of me not being able to understand what the salesperson is saying behind their ticket office window. I now try to order online and collect my train ticket from a machine at the station.
Sometimes, I may need assistance in determining a complicated route, or need to book seats that the online system isn’t allowing, so I have to brave the ticket queue. The strategy I employ is to write down the information I have about travel times and the destination and give this to the salesperson. I find that when I’ve written down the information, they are more likely to write down information for me – thus lessening possible confusion and misunderstanding on my part. I try and repeat back any spoken instructions to ensure I’ve understood them correctly too. (I have tried asking for the loop to be switched on, but the one at my local station never seems to be working.)
Once, I changed trains at a station where the ladies’ bathroom had a hearing induction loop connected to the tannoy system. The announcer’s voice was as clear as a bell. Now, if every transport interchange had one of those, that would relieve a lot of the stress that comes with worrying about missing announcements about platform changes and delays.
When travelling in the UK, I use the fabulous National Rail Journey Planner app, as I find the live information updates useful and I love the ‘get me home’ function that uses your current location and sends details to the next trains to your ‘home station’.
If I’m flying and need to change planes at an unfamiliar airport, I make sure I have a plan of the airport and an idea of where the assistance points and help desks are. (When I was hearing, on my first ever flight abroad, I had to run the entire length of Brussels airport as my name was being called over the speaker, announcing that the gate was closing for my connecting flight, and I dread being in that situation now where I’m lost and in a hurry and I can’t hear the tannoy system.)
When travelling to LAX, I found a great map to download and on arrival, I felt quite confident of where I needed to go to find the lounge to wait for my connection. My connecting flight was delayed and I ended up having to stay in a hotel overnight, but fortunately for me, a shuttle service was provided. The only problem was that there was no vibrating alarm to wake me up in time for the flight the next day and I had to rely on the flashing alert on my mobile phone, but thankfully I made it in plenty of time.
I have always found traveling by ferry to be a straightforward affair because instructions are usually very clearly written on signs and there are always a lot of staff around to help. Because of the noise on board ferries, the staff are adept at waving cars on and using hand signals to show where your car needs to be parked. There are usually clear maps on most ferries and clear signage to all the on-board facilities.
Last year, I enjoyed traveling on CalMac ferries in Scotland. They had some very useful information on their website to prepare me for the journeys. Their on-board safety video was also subtitled and signed. Perhaps the next improvements in terms of accessibility for passengers with hearing loss might be automated ticket collection machines and fixed counter hearing loops at their ticket desks. But, once I was clutching the tickets, it was clear sailing (pardon the pun).
Having a sat nav system is now a necessity for me when going anywhere unfamiliar – and I happily use mine with the voice control turned off. I find I’m better able to focus on my driving and the on-screen map without also trying to focus on listening for instructions.
Another useful tool – if you have an iPhone – is the ‘Share my location’ tool. If I’m visiting a friend, I’ll share my location with them before I set off and then they can access a map showing where I am – so there is no need for any distracting calls or texts to update them on your progress.
I like to use the maps app on my phone to find my way on foot. It saves having to ask strangers for directions and avoids the usual, ‘I have hearing loss’ explanations that must accompany a request for directions.
If I’m travelling somewhere I haven’t been before, I find buses the most stressful ways to travel, as I’m never sure how you’re supposed to know when to get off. It’s especially stressful on rainy days or in the dark when it’s hard to see out of the window. Obviously, I ask the driver to let me know when we’re approaching my stop and I try and sit near the front so I have a hope of hearing them – but, all in all, with the worry about the driver forgetting about me, the stress of missing the stop and the straining to hear in case they do call out to me, I find it a stressful business.
What tips do you have when travelling alone?
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