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Millions of people travel by train daily, almost taking it for granted. For some autistic people though train travel can be a major challenge. The sheer amount of people as well as all the different noises, smells and lighting can be overwhelming for some, making it impossible to travel.

But some organisations are becoming more aware of these challenges. East Midlands Railways (EMR), for one, have joined forces with Autism East Midlands to look at ways of making the environment more sympathetic to autistic people. They commissioned the charity to carry out autism friendly environmental audits on their railway stations.

The audits are part of a wider programme by the region’s largest autism specific charity to help organisations make their environments more autism-friendly. Audits have been carried out at health services, shops, public transport and leisure venues.

East Midlands Railways initially commissioned Autism East Midlands to audit its Leicester, Derby and Nottingham stations. A member of the auditing team was accompanied by autistic individuals from the charity’s Beechwood House services in Nottinghamshire. During each audit, the team reviewed access to the facilities and the general environment, checking out noise levels, smells, and other sensory challenges.

Small improvements

Afterwards recommendations were made for small improvements. East Midlands Railways not only took on board what was suggested but commissioned a further autism friendly environmental audits for Chesterfield, Lincoln, Loughborough and Sheffield stations.

Kevin Pakenham, a trainer and auditor at AEM, said: “Train travel can be a huge challenge for autistic people for many reasons. Our audits help highlight the potential triggers of stress. We look at access and facilities and the general environment including noise levels, smells, and other sensory awareness. We were pleased to be asked by EMR to carry out the audits as any changes that can be made make it easier for autistic people to travel more comfortably.”

“A special thanks must go to Andy Crofts and Dave Austick who accompanied me on my visits. Without their insight and help the reports would not have the same impact and would not fully represent the needs of autistic individuals who access the country’s railway network.”