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How do I... help my child to travel independently?

Photo: Parents and deaf young people give advice on travelling.

Travelling alone can be daunting for a deaf child or young person, but it can help with their independence to be able to get around on their own. Parents and young people share their tips to help you and your child feel more confident.

Get your children to take the lead...

Deaf teenagers wearing viking helmets
George and Patrick

Mark is dad to George and Patrick (both 14), who both have moderate to severe hearing loss.

“The first thing we do is get one of the boys to take the lead in working out the route, buying tickets and following signs while travelling.

The second is to get them to download and learn how to use a satnav app on their phone. The best free one we’ve found is called HERE WeGo – it works without needing a data connection when out and about. You can download other countries to use it abroad too.”

Start small and praise success...

Deaf teenager outside
Florence

Sharon is mum to Florence (17), who is profoundly deaf.

"The main challenges for Florence with travelling independently are not being able to hear announcements, not feeling confident to ask for help and being worried she may not hear the response.

To start with, don't make a deaf young person do anything they are uncomfortable with and start with short journeys. We initially encouraged Florence to travel to her grandma’s on the train. I saw her on to the train and granny met her directly off the train at the other end.

The station staff are very happy to allow you on to the platform if you ask. We also encouraged Florence to do trips with friends to build her confidence.

We did lots of journeys together when she was younger and I used to let her take charge of the journey, such as navigating the tube in London.

We now give Florence an itinerary of every stage of her journey: what time the train leaves, when it arrives, any changes, etc. She also uses train apps so she can check if trains are on time.

Journeys can take unexpected turns, with cancelled trains for example, so encourage young people to problem-solve scenarios. What might they do if a train is cancelled? In case there are problems, make sure they have contact numbers of friends or family that can help.

The confidence will come in time – children mature at different ages, so don't push them too soon. Start small and praise success, as even the shortest journey is an achievement. Let them have a go!”

Direct routes and pre-printed cards to say where they are going...

Deaf teenager sitting on the stairs
Francesca

Elizabeth is mum to Francesca (17), who is profoundly deaf.

“This has always been a dilemma for us too, being deaf ourselves! The best options for us, and we can recommend this, is to try to ensure a direct route on the train or as few changes as possible. Otherwise travel by coach, but this can be time-consuming.

The only thing you can’t predict is if train times change or a train is cancelled. On one occasion Francesca had to change trains at Birmingham, but not at New Street. Instead it was a completely different station and she had to ask about it. Fortunately a member of staff showed her where it was.

I suggest that they have a pre-printed card to say where they want to go to show to station staff. Obviously a deaf young person could also text their parents to say they are on the train and ask what time the train is expected to arrive.”

Check your route, and have a pen and paper to hand...

Deaf teenager in a classroom
Amy

Amy (17), who has moderate to severe hearing loss and is a member of the Young People’s Advisory Board (YAB).

“My advice for a deaf young person travelling independently is to first check your route. For example if you’re catching a bus, check which number it is and where it will be stopping. This will make you feel more comfortable as you’ll know where you’ll be travelling to. It’s also useful to check bus times.

One tip is to find out if you’re eligible for a free bus pass. I have one and find it very useful because it gives me so much independence. I can catch a bus to the seaside or to go shopping. You eventually get to know the bus drivers who are always ready to help.

If you’re catching a train, make sure you arrive at the station at least 20 minutes before it leaves to be safe. Double-check what time the train will be coming and on which platform. Before each train journey I check the stations it will be stopping at so I can keep track of where I am.

If I’m unsure about anything I always ask the station staff questions such as ‘is this train going to London Euston?’ It increases my confidence and gives me peace of mind for the journey.

Make sure you have a mobile phone with enough credit to call someone if you don’t know what to do or don’t feel well, for example. I add people's numbers to my phone so I can call them if I’m stuck.

It can be helpful to take a notepad to write things down and to take some hearing aid/cochlear implant batteries just in case. Also make sure you have some money on you to buy something to eat or drink if necessary.

If you’d like to start travelling independently, I’d only take small steps at first. For example, catch a bus to a nearby village/city to go for a walk. It might be easier if you take a friend with you!”