"Whether people are traveling by taxi, bus or community transport, a national passport scheme has got the potential to make life safer and easier."
MORE than 1.25 million wheelchair users could enjoy easier and safer travel across the UK thanks to a new passport scheme.
The last national code of practice for the transport of people in wheelchairs came out in 1987.
The new specification was drafted by Bob Appleyard, technical adviser at Unwin Safety Systems, who make wheelchair restraint and occupant safety systems.
Mr Appleyard said: "A lot has changed since 1987. Wheelchairs have got bigger and more complex, new safety systems have been developed, the number of people using wheelchairs has increased and there are new laws like the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 to comply with."
"We needed a 21st century system and - obviously I"m biased - but I think that's what we've now got."
The new code is called PAS 900:2010. It has been produced in partnership by the British Standards Institution (BSI), Essex and Lincolnshire County Councils, and Unwin Safety Systems, in consultation with disabled people and numerous other organizations. The idea of a passport scheme first came from wheelchair users, carers and transport providers.
PAS 900 requires a passport to be attached to a wheelchair for reading by transport operators and their assistants. A passport gives essential information for the safe transportation of a wheelchair and the welfare of the person sitting in it. It includes specified facts and pictures from wheelchair manufacturers, prescriber's, buyers, users, carers and transport providers.
Mr Appleyard, who also chairs the BSI technical committee on wheelchairs, said: "There is no Mr or Mrs Average in a wheelchair. Everybody is different and passports show transport providers what they must do to maximize the safety of all their different individual passengers.
"The more complex an individual's needs, the greater the passport's value. We're urging local authorities across the country to adopt this new scheme and give wheelchair users the care they need and the freedom they want."
Many local authorities and associations currently run schemes not recognized by other organizations, which can restrict people's access to services.
Councils in Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Merthyr Tydfil and Southwark are among the first bodies in the UK to start implementing PAS 900, but many more people expressed strong interest while the scheme was being researched and developed.
Unwin's Chief Executive Andrew Creese said: "Whether people are traveling by taxi, bus or community transport, a national passport scheme has got the potential to make life safer and easier."
"PAS 900 is a competent, modern, well thought through scheme. I'm delighted we were able to contribute our expertise to help get it going."
Unwin Safety Systems sell durable, waterproof and functional passport wallets designed for use with PAS 900 schemes. They come with clear plastic inserts, templates for text and pictures plus a sturdy yo-yo for attachment to a wheelchair.
PAS 900 itself states: "Greater freedom of mobility and access to safe transport lies at the heart of many day-to-day activities for all members of society. Similarly, safe transport for wheelchair users is a key element in an individual's ability to access medical facilities as well as participate in education, work and leisure.
"Presenting essential information for wheelchair securement and the needs of the wheelchair seated passenger to transport providers in a clear manner with a common method of operation will not only reduce risks associated with travel but enable greater confidence for the passenger, their carers and families in the achievement of social inclusion."
Article submitted to Disabled World by Unwin Safety Systems - www.unwin-safety.com