After so many high-profile cases, why are disabled travellers like me still being abandoned?

‘But we do a lot of training,’ I keep getting told. It seems to be working about as well as my chair when one of the wheels came off 

James Moore
Thursday 11 May 2017 13:15 BST
The second-class status of disabled citizens has become institutionalised
The second-class status of disabled citizens has become institutionalised

Here’s what I want to know, after having read the account by Londoner Lucy Webster of yet another nightmarish experience involving a disabled traveller trying to use public transport: why is this still happening?

You may have read that Webster, having spent the day in Brixton, was forced to divert from her usual route home (itself made longer than it should be because her local station isn’t accessible) because the lift at “step free” Green Park Tube station was out of order.

In a moving Facebook post, she recounts how, after then having to travel on to the next “accessible” station – King's Cross – she changed to the Piccadilly line, bound for Hammersmith.

Tube staff radioed ahead, but a promised ramp failed to appear (it happens more often than you’d think), leaving her headed on to Acton, the last accessible station for miles.

Of course, there was no ramp on hand there either, and even though the closure of ticket offices was supposed to lead to there being more staff being around to help people, well, you can guess what’s coming. There was no one there and no way to alert anyone. Except by pulling the emergency cord, which another passenger finally did.

“London has a wide range of accessible transport options so that everyone can get around,” TFL’s website brightly exclaims. And outside my window, wow! It’s Luke Skywalker in an X wing fighter asking if I fancy a lift!

Thanks Luke! If we could just find a blue badge space not already occupied by an Uber driver taking a smoke break for you to park it in, we might be able to get to Forbidden Planet to buy the kit we’ll need to make wheelchair light sabre fighting a sport at the next Paralympics!

Sigh. Making Britain a society that doesn’t institutionalise your second-class status as a disabled member of it seems about as likely right now as Luke stopping by for a coffee with his dad Darth in tow.

What's starting to worry me is that experiences like Webster’s are now so commonplace that it won't be long before they stop making the news.

It's only a few months since a real Paralympian, Anne Wafula Strike, was forced to urinate upon herself while travelling from Coventry to Stansted with CrossCountry Rail because the disabled toilet was out of order. There were (again) no staff to assist her with getting off the train so she could use the facilities at a station, which was the (inadequate) suggestion of the train’s onboard staff.

We also had Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, left stranded on an easyJet plane because, once again, assistance, that had been promised, failed to appear.

These involved high-profile people taking a stand, so they were noticed. However, they are by no means isolated incidents.

Those with disabilities face a mixture of inconvenience, official indifference, harassment, and, all too often, blatant discrimination that simply wouldn’t be acceptable in many similarly advanced economies, whenever they venture on to public transport.

I’ve written before about my friend who was berated by station staff at Ilford for failing to give 24 hours notices before using a train.

I've had taxis in Manchester drive on by when their drivers spotted the wheelchair and crutches I use.

In London, on the way home from taking my son to an event in Whitechapel, one driver ignored me, one abused me, and one treated me as a monumental pain in the neck when it came to getting on a bus home, just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled I had a legal right to a space.

So much for TFL’s stated policy, which was supposed to be in place before said court case. On the ground it’s simply being ignored. So much for other claims that assistance will be offered.

When things like this happen, and officials are moved to wake from their torpor, if you're really lucky you might get an apology, if you're a lottery winner, you might even get a review. More likely, it’ll be excuses.

"But we do a lot of training," I keep getting told. It seems to be working about as well as my wheelchair did after one of the castor wheels sheared off.

The second-class status of disabled citizens has become institutionalised. Treatment that would be utterly unacceptable, even unthinkable, when meted out to anyone else merits barely a shrug.

I remember listening to a BBC Radio talk show about the bus issue, when a comment was read out opining that disabled people should stick to mobility buses if they wanted to get out and about. Yes, someone actually said that. And the DJ let it pass without comment.

I'm not prepared to do that. I have no intention of shutting up about this. I’ve been banging on about it for years, and I’m fortunate enough to be working at a place where my editors give me the opportunity to do so.

However, I’ll add my voice to that of Webster: we need you, able-bodied citizens of good conscience, to help us. We need you to raise it on the doorstep when the canvassers come knocking. We need you to write angry letters to TFL and other transport providers, and to call into radio shows when trolls make comments like the one above and they get read out.

There are a lot of people who are willing to offer assistance when disabled people are out and about. But the above would be more meaningful still.

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