Disabled people don’t feel entitled to public transport
Anne is a semi-retired Paralympic athlete, author, disability and inclusion campaigner and a sporting ambassador. She believes it’s important to challenge misconceptions about disability and advocates for fairness within society.
For me to get from A to B I need public transport. However, as a wheelchair user this comes with so many complications and barriers, making me unable to travel as independently as I would like. Even at my age and with my experience of travelling, I am often left feeling nervous and with little confident whenever I board a train, fly, use a taxi or a bus.
We can do better
In 2016, I suffered humiliation when I had an accident whilst travelling on train due to the accessible toilet being out of order. I still have not recovered from the depressing experience when I wet myself while on the train. I remember covering my head in shame, with my gaze stopping at the disabled toilet ‘out of order’ sign. I was mortified that I was seated next to a facility meant for my use, but I couldn’t use it. This is a basic human need.
Last year I was ‘forgotten’ on an EasyJet flight. The plane had landed later than scheduled and as usual I was left to wait for pre-booked assistance to disembark. On this occasion, I was left with no communication about when they’d arrive. The flight attendants, including the pilots, had no idea what was going on. This lack of communication caused that flights turnaround to be significantly slower and really disrupted my journey.
On numerous occasions I haven’t been able to attend important meetings due to companies failing to have contingency plans in place for their cancellations. I remember being on a train when it announced that it was cancelled, every passenger got off train and I was left stranded. I had to wedge my wheelchair between doors to attract attention from the train driver.
Transport companies can do more, which would allow disabled people to travel like every other passenger.
I am a wheelchair user and a lack of adequate access means I can’t just travel spontaneously.
The process of booking train assistance is stressful and time-consuming and it’s a challenge when you must book each journey in advance. Even then, 30% of the time it does not go to plan. Despite me booking a ramp or wheelchair space on trains, I am still often left to rely on the sympathy of other passengers to lift me in my wheelchair off trains or to call for assistance from the staff who were supposed to be aware I needed help. Over time you get used to being disabled and you adapt to some form of independence. However, it’s humiliating when you have to rely on people’s ‘kindness’ through no fault of my own and I often worry about their health and safety.
Whenever I am in London, I have to ask a colleague or a passer-by to flag down a black cab for me, this is because on several occasions the taxi has just gone past me. For example, it was only last week that a taxi driver went to stop for a colleague, but then the driver quickly drove off when he realised I was the one wanting to the taxi. Based on this experience, it would appear that my money isn’t worth as much as everyone else’s.
Travelling like everyone else
Disabled people just want to have a choice when travelling. All transport companies provide help for those that need it, but it’s often not well known or the service isn’t consistent and flexible enough to adapt to the needs of disabled people.
To be honest, there’s progress being made towards fair and inclusive transport but it’s not on par with the other developments we see in this century. It is very slow and disabled people want to see change happening a lot faster.
We’re denied the right to travel every day and often made to feel as inconveniences. This isn’t just appalling from a disability rights standpoint, but a failure to recognise that disability is an essential part of diversity rights. It’s not the disability that disables me, but how society treats and the lack of help to break down barriers like not being able to access public transport.
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It appears a right to travel is given to everyone else but not the disabled person, why is this? Have you experienced discrimination while using public transport? Let us know in the comments below!