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How to get on (with) a bus: A pilot study of wheelchair users' engagement with research on bus accessibility

  • Lead Applicant: Professor Brian Balmer (UCL Science & Technology Studies)
  • Main Collaborator: Dr Catherine Holloway (UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering)
  • Additional Collaborators:

Dr Norma Morris (UCL Science & Technology Studies)

Raquel Velho, MSc Student (UCL Science & Technology Studies)

Every weekday Londoners make around 6.5 million bus journeys, with about 130,000 of those trips made by travellers using a Disability Pass. Disabled people are 20% more likely to use the bus than other members of the public; it is therefore essential that busses are accessible.

This project has two aims:
1) To examine how wheelchair users interact with buses from both a biomechanical and a social science perspective in order to fully understand what helps and what hinders a wheelchair user’s journey.
2) To investigate how wheelchair users engage with research and what they believe should be researched and how.

The project will be the first time researchers from the UCL PAMELA facility and those from the Science & Technology Studies (STS) department will work together. PAMELA is set up to study interactions between people – individuals or crowds – and their immediate physical, sensory and cognitive environment. A recent addition to the PAMELA facility is their bus: a standard, London issue, double decker bus. Currently data from the bus (e.g. acceleration, on-board video, GPS) and a new force sensing hand-rim (developed by a UCL Enterprise award) can be synchronised to form a complete bus-person measuring system for wheelchair users.

How and why people engage with research has been investigated by STS researchers, who conducted a series of ESRC-funded projects about volunteers experiences participating as ‘subjects’ in an on-going biomedical physics research project. The volunteers were interviewed in depth. This research showed how volunteers counter the notion of being ‘guinea-pigs’ or passive research material, instead finding ways to play active and engaged roles during their participation. The roles people take subsequently affects how they behave in experiments and therefore impacts the results.

This pilot study will focus on a segment of London’s disabled passengers, wheelchair users. It will ask a small purposive sample (c.10) of users to board a bus under different conditions (e.g. crowded, different ramp gradients) while measuring the biomechanics of doing so. The same users will then be asked to take part in a qualitative interview. The interview will explore their experiences as bus users and, their experience of taking part in the experiment and more innovatively, explore how they might shape on-going research taking place at UCL on making buses more wheelchair-friendly. Therefore, at the very start of this body of research the users are involved in shaping the scope and the way in which the experiment is conducted. The interviews will also investigate what people believe should be self-reported in a style akin to ‘citizen science’ and what would be better tested in a laboratory setting.

The engineering aspects of the research will be conducted by the technical team at PAMELA and the data will be analysed by Catherine Holloway using software already written. The interviews and will be undertaken by a student as a dissertation project for the MSc in Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at UCL. Interviews will be transcribed and analysis will be aided by Nvivo qualitative data analysis software.

Page last modified on 10 apr 14 11:05