I’m Richard. I’m 42 and live with Cerebral Palsy, a neurological impairment which affects the movement of my arms and legs. I’m not able to walk, so I use a manual wheelchair.
Travelling for work as a disabled man
In my job, I sometimes I have to travel around the country to attend events. I get from place to place using trains.
Generally, I feel I manage quite well and think the assistance provided is far better than it used to be.
But as anybody with an impairment or disability will know, using public transport can present us with additional challenges. Challenges that unless you do have an impairment, are difficult to fully relate to or understand.
Booked assistance was working
Recently, I needed to travel for work. With my tickets and assistance booked, which covered all legs of the journey, I was excited to get going. I also decided to make it a weekend away with my wife and daughter. It was nice to have travel buddies for once.
The journey from Coventry to Kent, via London, was straight forward and uneventful. The booked assistance was on time and helpful, including the staff on the trains, and at my destination station.
I delivered my presentation, which despite my nerves, was a success. My family and I then enjoyed a day at the lovely Kent seaside.
Soon, it was time for us to leave and catch our train home. This is where the problem started.
An inaccessible platform made us miss all connecting trains
When we arrived at the station, we were told by the station staff that there was no wheelchair access to the platform we needed to be on. We were then told the only station with a lift was in the next town!
The only way for us to get to that station was by taxi, and unfortunately, the only wheelchair accessible taxi wasn’t available for an hour.
This meant we missed all the connecting trains to London. We spent the last of our money on the taxi. When we eventually got home, we were tired, thirsty and a lot later than planned. The experience also had an upsetting effect on my daughter who was so upset at seeing me treated so differently.
Train company took three months to apologise
I decided to contact the train companies to make a complaint about what had happened to us, and the lack of information at the time of booking and during the journey. This proved difficult, as both companies blamed each other for what had happened.
After three months, one of the companies accepted responsibility and offered an apology and a good-will gesture.
This issue need not have occurred at all. When booking the assistance, the train companies can see from all the information we are asked to provide, when and where we are going, and have an overview of our impairments.
An email could have been sent to me, telling me I would need to return via another station. And any of the staff I interacted with on my first journey could have told me. Nobody did.
How I'd improve public transport for disabled people
I would really love to see transport companies make better use of the technology available. Maybe better use of apps? How about a chat function, so you can talk to station or train staff?
Perhaps registering as a disabled traveller with a company would mean not having to fill out the same information again and again, when booking travel assistance.
Last, but not least, lifts to access platforms in every station.
When it comes to finding ways to improve public transport for disabled people, it’s worth public transport companies remembering that it’s good to talk.
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