“There’ll be a slight delay at the next stop because we have an MIP on board who needs assistance getting off the train.”
Kill me. Just kill me. Those were my initial thoughts as the MIP in question. For the record, it stands for Mobility Impaired Person and they spell it out rather than turning it into an acronym, which is perhaps just as well. Imagine being referred to as a "mip".
This being London, you can guess what happened next: everyone in the damn carriage gawked at me as if I were some pregnant panda in a zoo while I stared so hard at the floor I developed a headache.
On to the station, where the ramp guy looked quite nonplussed because he didn’t have time to so much as move the thing before I was off and wheeling down the platform.
I’d made it quite clear to the staff at Stratford (where I’d boarded the train) that while I need one of the things there – the station that served the Paralympics still doesn’t have step free access to the eastbound Central Line – I wouldn’t need any more help after that, including at the other end.
South Woodford, where I was getting off, has a bit of a gap between train and platform on that side but I’ve managed it on countless occasions. It’s far easier to deal with on wheels than it is using crutches, and I confess that I’ve almost come a cropper trying to do that on occasion.
I’d repeatedly made this clear to the staff. Disabled doesn’t mean helpless and being treated as such is humiliating in the extreme. The message just didn’t get through.
This isn’t unusual. I have to say it’s the first time I’ve had to endure a driver calling attention to me and blaming me for an unnecessary delay of a few seconds, but this is far from the first time I’ve had problems attempting to use the tube. Conversations with disabled friends have also revealed that I’m far from alone.
They've all encountered some variation on the “does he take sugar with that” assumption that they can't possibly articulate their needs for themselves and/or the tendency to treat them as if they’re simply a pain in someone's neck. The dehumanising way “MIP” is used by tube staff only adds to that.
“Sorry, but we’ve got one of those bloody cripples getting on board.”
“Oh Christ, really? Haven’t we done enough to discourage them yet?”
“I know, I know. How about this. Why not tell everyone you’re carrying one on the tannoy and they’ll all stare. That should put them off for good and it’ll be one less of them we have to worry about.”
At this point there’ll doubtless be someone brandishing a Brexit Party membership card thinking “pah, snowflake, what's the matter with being called an MIP anyway?”.
How about imagining their reaction if the tube driver had said something like: “Ladies and gentlemen we’ll be delayed at the next stop because we have a white bloke on board and they need their hand holding to get off.”
Imagine the outrage in the Daily Telegraph and on LBC. The Tory leadership candidates would all jump in shaking their fists as a means of scoring points with their reactionary membership. The alt right would whip up a fire storm on Twitter. Even Donald Trump might care to opine as part of one of his early morning rants. Look across the pond at that awful Sadiq Khan’s London where white blokes are humiliated trying to get off the tube!
There’s a reason I mentioned the mayor. I’m usually a little reluctant to criticise him because most of the people who do so range from fairly unpleasant, to out and out awful, to Boris Johnson.
But this is an issue he could, and should, address as someone who has made a big noise about valuing inclusion and diversity.
For the record I put the point to Transport for London. Nick Dent, London Underground’s Director of Line Operations, said this: “Disability and equality training is a central part of training for our staff, both when they join TfL and throughout their continuing development. A key element of the training is the importance of listening to customers about their needs.”
That’s fine in theory. But it’s not happening in practice. And do you know what the worst thing about it is? There are parts of Britain that actually serve to make London look good at this sort of thing
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies