Is it too much to ask for access to a toilet when I travel by train?

Life for disabled people on the move is still made far too difficult

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The Independent Online

I thought carefully before agreeing to write about my latest train experience. The last time I mentioned being stuck on a train, and was generally misquoted, I received a torrent of abuse. The most challenging was that “people like me should travel in cattle trucks at the back of all the other carriages”. Nice.

I commute to London weekly, and trying to get home to the north of England today, I found as I was about to get on the train to Darlington that there was no accessible toilet on board. The journey time is 2 hours, 20 minutes. Sometimes the staff are able to let me know in advance and I can make a decision about whether I choose to travel, try to rush to a loo at the station, or just not drink anything along the way. Sometimes, like today, I didn't know the situation until I was about to get on. These are not choices that any non-disabled person has to make. I suppose I could have delayed my journey by 30 minutes, but I really wanted to get home.

I don't normally complain. Nor do I get angry, because sadly, I am resigned to it. But I do tweet about it. Actually I tweet a lot about my experiences of travelling. I am a realist. Some trains have older rolling stock, and making lots of changes to them would be expensive. But most companies I use only have two wheelchair spaces on board (one in First and one in Standard) so it is not as if there are lots of us demanding access. I am not stamping my feet demanding special treatment or ask that we wave a magic financial wand and make everything perfect. But I don't think that it is too much to ask that trains have accessible toilets.

Because of the configuration of the space, if I need to “go” I will have to transfer from my chair to the toilet without dragging my legs or my dress too much on the floor. If I don't make the transfer, the only way I can do it is to actually sit on the toilet floor, with the toilet bowl near my head, and then pull myself up. The imperative to make a clean transfer first time is considerable. Generally the trains are OK, the staff pretty good, but it could be better. And just so you know, I am not drinking my tea.

Lady Grey-Thompson is a multiple gold medal-winning Paralympian. She sits in the House of Lords as an Independent Crossbench peer