Note: I am leading Lamar University’s study abroad group to my home town, Brighton, to study travel writing and photojournalism. As well as writing features about Brighton and beyond, I’m keeping a diary, of sorts, about the class experience. Here is part 3.

victoria
Victoria Garcia talks to Lamar University students about the Brighton Bus and Coach Company’s accessibility program.

BRIGHTON, England — When I was scouting out this study abroad program last year, I asked my nephew Daniel Walker about bus passes. Dan is blind and is dependent on the buses to get around so I thought he would know how much a pass would cost and the best version to get. He said he knew someone at the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company and he would check it out for me. I thought he knew a driver or something. Little did I know what a fantastic project would arise from that chanced conversation.

Dan said that he spoke to his friend, Victoria Garcia, about the passes and she said that if the journalism students wanted to write about the company’s accessibility program she would arrange for our travel. I thought this was a win-win. Not only would the students get some of their travel costs taken care of while they were in England, but they would also have a good project to work on together.

Little did I know what a great opportunity we were being given.

buspresent
Victoria Garcia talks to Lamar University students at the Brighton bus headquarters.

On the third day of our study abroad program, the students and I met with Victoria, accessibility and communities manager at the bus company, and Comms manager Maria Samson, to talk about the accessibility program. We learned that the bus company’s program is a leader in England and that Victoria even works with the government to develop laws and programs to improve accessibility.

I had expected to be interested in the program, but neither I nor the students were prepared for the inspirational presentation. The students took copious notes, recorded the presentation and asked many questions. Over the next two weeks, they will be following up with charities and individuals that use the buses.

The plan is to produce a series of stories for the University Press in the fall so be sure to watch out for those, as well as some pro-active advocacy for accessibility back in Beaumont.

We were struck not only by Victoria’s passion, but by the simplicity of the message — improving accessibility is not only the right thing to do but is also cost-effective. The better the experience, the more customers. I know the students are excited by the chance to produce this work.

businterior
Victoria Garcia, right, shows the Lamar students the updates that have been made to the interior of the Brighton buses to improve accessibility.

The students, decked out in their high-visibility vests, were treated to a tour of the bus company’s facilities, including the control room where the company’s fleet of almost 300 buses are monitored to the shop where repairs to everything from engines to seat cushions are made. We saw a bus with black ribbons that was on its way to a funeral for a former bus worker.

I grew up with the bus system being an integral part of my life (I didn’t drive until I moved to America). It is an essential part of the Brighton and Hove community and I am proud to see how progressive and proactive the company is being.

Congratulations to Victoria, who was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List shortly before our visit. It is much deserved.

Check out the UP in the fall. For all of the great work the students will produce on this trip, the bus story has the potential to have real and meaningful impact.

busgroup
Lamar University study abroad students pose with Victoria Garcia and Daniel Walker with his guide dog Pebbles.

 

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