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Why is it so difficult for disabled people to travel?

My name is Leigh, and I have the most amazing son named Warwick. He’s severely physically disabled, and extremely clever. He’s 13 and has been the face of campaigns, the feature of news stories, and was even the winner of a Tommy’s Children’s Champion award.

When he was born we were told he was unlikely to survive, so we cherish our time together now.

We recently had tickets to see Wicked in London and started preparing travel arrangements in the week leading up to our trip. Trying to get anywhere with the train websites was a nightmare, so I ended up trying by phone instead. I was being given conflicting information and it was unnecessarily complicated.

Eventually we got the tickets sorted and were ready to go, but the real issues hadn’t even started.

There were so many issues that left me feeling upset and frustrated.

Our first train was okay with staff who were prepared, and we made it into London safely. We thought that meant we would be fine for the return journey as well, but there were so many issues that left me feeling upset and frustrated.

We struggled getting onto the train because our booked assistance wasn’t ready. After saying that I’d get Warwick on the train myself someone finally agreed to get the ramp out to help.

During the journey, the train manager asked where we were getting off so he could make sure the booked assistance was ready and prepared. But when the train arrived at our station, I went to wait at the door to meet the person who was assisting us. The man waiting for us informed me that we had to stay on the train, as the lift was broken at our station.

We wouldn’t be able to leave.

Instead, we would have to get off in another city and get another train back to our station, so that we would arrive on a different platform which had an accessible exit.

Staff treated us poorly, but kind strangers saved the day.

That just wasn’t good enough, and I needed to get Warwick home. I asked for their help in carrying his wheelchair off the train, which they couldn’t do. In the end, a stranger offered his help.

Between him, myself, my sister, and Warwick’s 121 support, we carried him off the train. The stranger wasn’t even getting off at our station. He offered to delay his own journey because he saw the injustice Warwick was facing.

While we all carried him up three sets of stairs, a young couple rushed over and offered their help after seeing what was happening and hearing how we were treated. They carried our bags for us as we struggled to get back down on the other side. We made it eventually, but we were angry and upset at the situation we’d been put in and most importantly, how we were treated.

I completely understand that technical issues happen, but the least they could have done was warn us before we were ready to get off the train. The staff tried to say that it wasn’t their fault because they didn’t know we were getting off at their station. However, they were waiting at the train door for us and asked if I was with Warwick before I even had a chance to say anything, never mind his name.

Not a single member of staff actually spoke to Warwick during this ordeal. There was no attempt to understand our predicament. There wasn’t even an apology. It just isn’t good enough.

Why does it have to be so difficult for disabled people to travel?

“We have problems every time.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues with travel, and it probably won’t be the last either.

We’ve had black cabs tell us their ramps are broken which we’re told is a common excuse to avoid taking disabled passengers.

At a London train station, when we asked where the Changing Places toilet was, the staff didn’t even know. When we finally found it, we were told we had to use a different toilet because it was locked. The manager liked to keep it locked because the Changing Places equipment is expensive. We know that because we have to buy most of it ourselves.

Flying is even more of a disaster. There are no suitable seats for Warwick as he needs full support, so we had to buy an airline approved car seat for him to use. We have problems every time, despite carrying a letter from the airline themselves allowing it, because airport and plane staff don’t know much about it.

Travelling can be amazing and there’s a huge world out there to explore. It’s a real shame that we have to spend so much time and energy making complaints

How are disabled people supposed to enjoy it and take part when there are so many barriers?

I want to see training provided to all staff in roles where they will have to deal with disabled passengers. Not only this, but it must be delivered by disabled people and their caregivers – the people that have experiences of best and worst practice.

Otherwise, how will anything ever change?

I will not give up until action is taken to make travel equal and accessible for everyone.

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