Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from The Adult Dyslexia Organisation (DAT 68)

Recent research (Lamont et al, 2013) has shown that dyslexic people (and those with overlapping conditions) experience a wide range of difficulties with using public transport. The research was ground breaking, not least because:

There is a paucity of research into the effects on travel of dyslexia as a specific learning disability. P150

Consequently we have referred to it extensively in this presentation. The research argued that a great deal could be done, particularly in the context of more accessible communication, to reduce the barriers experienced.

Emerging as an issue at almost every stage of the journey lifecycle, inaccessible information is a barrier not only to people’s ability to make effective journeys, but also to their ability and desire to travel, which has been linked to a reduced perception of the journeys (both modes and destinations) available to them (SEU, 2003; also Hine, 2007).p150

However, the barriers are largely unrecognised and there seems little prospect of public transport institutions and companies making the changes needed to make public transport sufficiently accessible. This leads to significant social exclusion:

At present, both inaccessible and inadequate pre and in-trip information is a barrier not only to people with dyslexia’s ability to make effective journeys, but also to their desire to travel, which can prevent this group from accessing opportunities, services, social networks and other goods.p153

The Barriers Identified

The barriers experienced are wide ranging and individual dyslexic travellers will experience different combinations of difficulties. Most of the barriers fall into the category of inaccessible communication, although these take many different forms. However, they are not limited to issues of communication.

Dyslexic travellers are likely to experience particular barriers to accessing public transport due to the common use of:

Inaccessible maps (unlike the tube map).

Confusing timetables:

Problems with timetables emerged strongly during the discussions, for reasons related to the nature of dyslexia, including:

Amount of information displayed.

Colour contrast.

Font size.

Font style.

Information presented horizontally/linearly.

Timetables printed on glossy paper. p153.

24 hour clocks.

Black print on white glossy background and small font size.

On screen text instructions with lack of screen readers.

The need to input correctly spelt information in interactive web-based journey planners.

Overburden of information on screen:

Participants explained that they find it almost impossible to read web-based journey information because such a wealth of information is provided p153.

scrolling information (in lights).

Stations with similar confusable names.

Arbitrary sequences of numbers to label features of travel:

I have to be very careful boarding the correct bus when the bus number contains 6s or 9s. I can easily mix them up. (Deborah) p152

Lots of separate tickets.

Verbal instructions and garbled announcements:

They’ll say turn here, go up there. By the time he’s walked away, I’ve forgotten what he said. (Deborah)

Unsympathetic staff.

The Experience of using Public Transport

These barriers lead to a stressful experience when attempting to access and navigate public transport. It can be very difficult to arrive on time, remember times, days of the week, station names, how to navigate across stations and ensure paperwork needed is in order. The general response is to avoid unnecessary journeys and stick to well-known routes restricting access to activities, work and social engagement:

Participants highlighted the particular functional implications of dyslexia and how these relate to their difficulties when using travel information, both before and during their journeys. The discussion considered: learning; listening; numerical processing; reading; speech; spelling; wayfinding; and emotional effects. Each of these person-type factors was seen to contribute towards an inability to use travel information in its present form, which acts to inhibit the use of the transport system by people with dyslexia, directly resulting in their mobility-related exclusion. p151

When dyslexic travellers do travel, they frequently find that they miss connections, have alighted at the wrong stop, lost a ticket, have difficulties with the ticket machines, or have to go a long way around to avoid difficulties:

Some abandon the journey altogether, resulting in reduced activity participation. p153

Difficulties with orientation also mean that dyslexic travellers frequently head off in the wrong direction and get lost:

Getting lost and subsequently getting back on track emerged as a significant concern, both practically and emotionally. p153

Dyslexic travellers then need to ask for help, knowing that they are unlikely to be able to retain and follow strings of instructions, necessitating needing to find more people to ask. All these difficulties are both stressful and often expensive:

Journeys that change unexpectedly lead to intensely negative emotional feelings, because the inherent skills needed in order to manage stress and deal with changes to travel circumstances, ie, using travel information, cannot be drawn upon. This can lead to an avoidance of certain routes and modes and the abandonment of journeys, if circumstances change. p152

A common strategy is to arrange for a dry run of new journeys, doubling the cost:

If I have to go somewhere new, my husband always has to take me there first on a dry-run. By performing a dry-run I remember the route by looking at the shops and pubs rather than all the street names and road numbers. (Rachel) p151

Social Exclusion

The barriers to using public transport lead directly to social exclusion:

Mobility-related social exclusion is the process by which people are prevented from participating in the economic, political and social life of the community because of reduced accessibility to opportunities, services and social networks, due in whole or in part to insufficient mobility in a society and environment built around the assumption of high mobility (Kenyon et al., 2002).

There is now a considerable literature linking low mobility and low accessibility to the activities, facilities and services that are considered essential for well-being and quality of life for citizens in societies across the globe.p148

Participants described situations in which they had been unable to visit friend and family, and access certain facilities and services…Discussions highlighted an exclusion from mobility, which directly resulted in exclusion from activity participation.p153

The BDA summarises the exclusion as follows:

By failing to provide suitable alternatives to printed matter people with Dyslexia are prevented from accessing traditional sources of information , this can affect choices of which services to use or their providers. A restriction of this kind can therefore also reduce control over one’s life and activities…. Furthermore this may impact upon work, educational, recreational, and familial activity. This may therefore contravene UNCRPD Article 9 (Accessibility) and Article 30. (correspondence)

It is therefore evident that dyslexic travellers are disabled by public transport systems leading to additional expense, significant stress and fear of humiliation. These in turn reduce travelling leading to significant social exclusion. The case for enabling greater access to public transport systems that would not penalise travel difficulties with the added burden of additional expense to the individual is clear. However, this is not simply a matter of equality, social inclusion, and justice. There is also a strong economic argument. Business Link in London, referring to the Cass Business School studies, at City University, on dyslexia and entrepreneurial success, argue that due to characteristic dyslexic strengths of creativity, problem solving and innovation:

Dyslexics are four times more likely to be business owners and twice as likely to become millionaires as non-dyslexics. It makes good business sense to support dyslexics do even better in business. Business Link London

However, this business success can be fragile. Low self-esteem as a consequence of disabling dyslexic experiences is prevalent even in this highly successful group:

Both dyslexic and non-dyslexic entrepreneurs in the study possessed a high need for achievement but the dyslexic entrepreneurs felt a higher need for achievement and the level of self-confidence between the two groups was markedly different. 73% of the non-dyslexics rated themselves as very confident whereas only 7% of dyslexics rated themselves in this way. Business Link London

Enabling dyslexic travellers to travel despite mistakes made in the process and so with less stress would not simply reduce barriers for dyslexic travellers, but also support and enable economic development.

We therefore urge the Committee to support the access to Freedom Passes and Disabled Persons Railcard for all those recognised as disabled including dyslexic travellers, and to present this argument to the European Parliament when the Transport Select Committee visits Brussels in March 2013 for a general update on EU transport policy regarding disability. Currently hidden disabilities are leading to hidden disablement. Hidden from view, the social exclusion has been unseen and ignored.

By Dr Ross Cooper


Kevin Geeson Chief Executive at Dyslexia Action.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Disability Awareness group for Dyslexic staff support the paper and its contents.

Susannah Gill, Neurodiversity Organiser on behalf of TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association).


Hine, J., 2007. Travel demand management and social exclusion. Mobilities 2 (1), 109–120.

Kenyon, S., Lyons, G., Rafferty, J., 2002. Transport and social exclusion: investigating the possibility of promoting inclusion through virtual mobility. Journal of Transport Geography 10 (3), 207–219.

Lamont D., Kenyon S., Lyons G., (2013) Dyslexia and mobility-related social exclusion: the role of travel information provision, Journal of Transport Geography 26 (2013) 147–157, Elsevier Logan, J. (2007) Why people with dyslexia are successful in business

Social Exclusion Unit (SEU), 2003. Making the Connections: Final Report on Transport and Social Exclusion. SEU, London.

January 2013

Prepared 13th September 2013