Do sustainable travel and disability mix? We asked the experts to find out

University of Leeds
4 min readOct 10, 2023

Are you a disabled student and want to get some advice on how to make sustainable travel work for you? Or are you a non-disabled student and want to learn more about the challenges disabled students face when travelling sustainably?

In this Q&A session, we speak with Carly Miller from the University’s Disability Services. Carly unpacks travelling challenges for disabled students, debunks common myths and shares advice on how non-disabled students can be allies to disabled students.

Carly Miller, Disability Coordinator at the University of Leeds’ Disability Services

Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A: Hi! I’m Carly Miller, a Disability Coordinator at the University’s Disability Services. My role involves collaborating with various teams to enhance the experience of disabled students.

I’m an autistic commuter myself, often taking public transport to get to campus, and so I have personal experience of being a disabled traveller too.

Q: What are some of the day-to-day challenges that disabled students face when travelling sustainably like taking public transport or active travel?

A: Disabled travellers encounter several challenges, especially when using public transport. For instance, if someone requires assistance at a train station and there’s no staff member available, it can deter them from travelling.

Delays can also be problematic, particularly for those who struggle to stand. Additionally, buses often have only one wheelchair space, making it difficult for multiple disabled commuters.

These issues result from disabled people often not being included in the planning stage when setting up public transport systems. Rather than being proactive, transport systems instead rely on disabled people to be reactive to an inaccessible system.

Q: What are some things that make sustainable travel tough for disabled students that non-disabled students might take for granted?

A: It can be difficult to be spontaneous with your travelling as a disabled person. A non-disabled person might just decide to take a day trip somewhere new, but that may not be as simple for a disabled person. What if there’s nobody there to help them get on and off the train? Or what if there’s no ticket office for those who can’t use touch screens?

Sensory issues, such as heightened sensitivity to smell, noise, and temperature, can also make public transport uncomfortable.

Non-disabled students can be affected by these issues too. For example, if you’re an international student or new to Leeds, it can be overwhelming getting public transport in a new city, so it’s helpful to have workers at stations to help. Being open to change and accommodating everyone’s needs is essential to ensure stress-free travel for all.

Q: Can you debunk some myths about sustainable travel for disabled students?

A: There’s a common misconception that disabled people don’t travel, especially during rush hours, and therefore, there’s no need for dedicated spaces on transport. However, disabled individuals lead active lives, studying and working just like anyone else.

Disabilities are not always visible and it may not be obvious that someone needs additional support simply by looking at them. Disability can affect people of all ages, and it’s not always apparent by appearance alone.

Q: What advice do you have for disabled students to make sustainable travel smoother?

A: Drawing from my experience as an autistic traveller, I always try to:

· plan ahead and have backup options in case of cancellations.

· carry a portable charger to ensure you can purchase tickets or contact someone in case of emergencies.

· use noise-reduction earplugs for sensory comfort and use distractions like reading books or listening to audiobooks/podcasts.

For disabled people, issues are often out of their hands so even making little sustainable changes without causing personal harm goes a long way. For example, if you get a train to Leeds station and a taxi from there to campus, that’s better than getting a taxi all the way to the University.

Remember, where you can travel sustainably, that’s great — but don’t put yourself in a position to cause physical harm, stress, or anxiety.

Q: Finally, what can non-disabled students do to be more supportive and inclusive to disabled students?

A: Non-disabled students should be aware of the challenges faced by disabled peers. If you notice potential barriers, report them. For instance, some train stations lack textured ground surfaces for visually impaired individuals to help realise they’re too close to the tracks, so it can be dangerous to not have the textured ground at every station.

You can also support campaigns initiated by disabled individuals, amplifying their voices and advocating for necessary changes. By working together, we can create a more accessible and inclusive travel environment for everyone.

Want to know how the University is taking climate action? Find out more about our Climate Plan.

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