When transport is accessible to everyone, we see a more interconnected country with fewer cases of isolation among our citizens. This is crucial to a happy and health society, and the UK’s railway system is supposed to help us achieve this.17 George Bush Senior quotes as the former president passes away at 94
But figures released this week show that 40% of all British train stations – more than 1,000 – are essentially barring disabled people from being able to travel alone due to a failure to make them accessible.
Lack of step-free access for example makes stations physically impossible for me and many other disabled people to use, especially wheelchair and mobility scooter users.
These issues need to be urgently addressed, but the problem goes beyond just the physically barriers – the emotional impact of inaccessibility is often overlooked.
Disabled people end up feeling isolated and forgotten as entire areas are completely off limits to them. This makes many people less likely to want to use public transport – even when it is physically possible.
I, along with many other disability activists, am constantly campaigning for inclusion. We are often faced with responses that seem to suggest we are a group of whiners and grunters. Yet these figure show the reality of the country we live in, and how overlooked the disabled community is. With time, I have come to the realisation that disability is not the problem; the lack of support and accessibility is the real issue.
After years of negative experiences, I find myself filled with anxiety and panic over getting to appointments late or having to cancel meetings at the last minute. During rush hour I seem to become invisible to other travelers trying to fight to board trains and buses – meaning I have to organise my day around when I can actually use the transport network.
A few months ago, a friend who is also a wheelchair user and I decided to use the underground to go and meet friends for a meal. But even though the signs indicated there was a lift at the end of our journey, when we got there we found out it had been out of operation for months. We had to scramble to find an alternative route which had step-free access which is never straightforward. We ended up being four hours late.
As a wheelchair user, I have to rely on staff assistance to provide ramps to get on and off a train. Recently, on my return home from watching athletics at the Queen Elizabeth stadium, there was no one available to assist me. Fellow passengers offered to lift me on to the train, but even that was impossible because I needed staff to phone ahead to alert them the other end – if there was no ramp available there, I wouldn’t be able to disembark.
My alternative is to try to use the accessible buses, but so many times a driver has chosen to leave me at a bus stop – presumably because the wheelchair space on board is already occupied by a buggy.
Even taxis aren’t reliable: in the past I have been ignored by drivers and watched in despair and frustration when the same taxi stopped to pick up the person at the corner of the next building. Presumably it’s more convenient for the driver because they didn’t need to put out a ramp.
Despite this, I do usually have to resort to using taxis to get across London because using public transport is even more stressful and unpredictable. This is a huge financial burden that many disabled people with lower incomes would not be able to undertake.
Many disabled people can’t just simply get in a car or take a train like non-disabled people can, so a lack of proper services at railways can prevent us from visiting family or attending holidays and events. Even stations that do offer these services require us to book assistance up to 24 hours in advance.
This is particularly relevant this time of year, when many of us have a number of festive events to attend and families to visit. Having to plan all of your trips days – sometimes weeks – in advance to avoid inaccessible stations creates even more barriers, making the journeys longer and more expensive. Many disabled people, in particular older people, will spend Christmas alone because visiting family will not be an option.
I will continue to campaign for accessible transport and alongside Transport For All and other campaigners. We want every station to have specialist staff, from the first train to the last, and step-free access at every station. Station design improvements should consult and engage with disabled people from the outset to ensure that the design is accessible before work begins.
This is not impossible and it’s clear something must be done. Disabled people should have the right to travel freely and spontaneously, just like everyone else can.