Wightlink has been awarded £276,800 to help improve travel to and from the Isle of Wight for disabled customers. The ferry company’s submission for the Government Maritime Accessibility Fund grant was drawn up following consultation with accessible travel company Unlimited Island.
Fully accessible toilets for disabled adults and children will be built in both Portsmouth and Ryde, and improved ticket machines at an accessible height for people using wheelchairs will be installed at all ports. There will be new intercom systems at Ryde Pier and Portsmouth Harbour to help foot passengers with disabilities seek assistance and more powered wheelchairs to assist Wightlink staff in aiding customers boarding ferries and catamarans.
The two Changing Places accessible toilets, equipped with hoists, will give disabled people the confidence to embark on ferry travel knowing their needs can be met during the journey.
The mainland facilities at Wightlink’s car ferry terminal in Gunwharf Road, Portsmouth, will also include a shower and be available 24 hours a day. The dry room toilet at Wightlink’s terminal at Ryde Pier Head will be open while the FastCats are in service.
The facilities will also support people with invisible disabilities who may need a quiet room to wait with autistic children and adults.
Wightlink Chief Executive Keith Greenfield says: “We are grateful to the Government for this grant, which will help us make a difference for disabled travellers who want to cross the Solent.
“While Wightlink complies with all accessibility regulations and our staff always do all they can to support disabled travellers, more can always be done to make their journeys easier and more enjoyable. The Changing Places toilets were at the heart of Wightlink’s bid for Government funding.”
More than a quarter of a million disabled adults and children in the UK need extra support to use the toilet safely and comfortably. They need specialist equipment and space to move around.
Ordinary accessible toilets (‘disabled toilets’) are not good enough to support these individuals, and many disabled people are forced to limit their travel plans because they may are concerned they may not find suitable toilet facilities. This affects people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy and neuromuscular conditions, cerebral palsy, Multiple Sclerosis and learning disabilities.
Once built and registered on www.changing-places.org for everyone to see, these facilities would encourage more disabled people to travel with confidence. The rooms would also provide a quiet place for autistic adults and children to wait for their ferry.
Maritime Minister Robert Courts MP says: “This funding will tangibly improve access to this life-line ferry link, which is vital to keep communities linked with the mainland. We are committed to help people to travel with confidence as we continue to build back from the pandemic.”
Wightlink worked with accessible travel company Unlimited Island on the grant application. Director Claire Walker says: “Unlimited Island welcomes this news. We were pleased to help Wightlink put together its application and we are sure visitors with disabilities will value the opportunity to use the Changing Places toilets and other facilities at Solent ports.”