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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Is public transport suitable for disabled people?

Welcome to my new followers, I am looking forward to some interaction from my followers as some already have. I have had an interesting weekend and some things I have heard through twitter has made me feel the need for another blog post. Some of the main topics being discussed include how disabled people are seen as 'benefit scroungers' and that of the experiences of disabled people and transport. I have spent time in previous posts speaking about how the media shows disabled people as benefit scroungers and so am not going to try and reinvent the wheel with that one. Instead I am going to discuss my experiences of public transport. I have mentioned this topic but not at great length and so feel it is appropriate to focus a whole post to this topic.

As previously mentioned I have been disabled from birth and so have experienced public transport in many different circumstances. When I was younger I was very reliant on being driven everywhere that I went. Many of the buses were inaccessible especially in my village and so did not have this option most of the time. At a young age there was the worry of getting taxis at night and so this wasn't really an option until a later age. Disabled people are given the opportunity to learn to drive when they are 16 years old because of the limited options that many disabled people experience and I am very grateful to be given the opportunity as it provided me independence I only dreamed of before I was driving. The option to drive so young was only made possible because of the Motability scheme, allowing many disabled people the opportunity for a level of independence. If this scheme was unavailable I would have never been able to drive so young and probably wouldn't be driving now making my opportunities to live a full life almost impossible under those circumstances.

The physical facilities for public transport has improved, many buses now have ramps or the option of level entrance and trains have ramps that can be put by the door, lifts at stations and even the tube system is becoming more accessible. Unfortunately even with the improvements made there are still many problems. The attitudes of staff and other passengers affects the accessibility of the public transport available. At one stage I decided to start using the bus service locally to get to work. I did this for many reasons, one of which was to limit some of the problems for my back when lifting my wheelchair in and out of the car. I did this for a couple of months, and there were times when it went well and I would even go so far as to say it was pleasurable. Unfortunately the times that were bad outweighed the good, which led to me deciding to go back to using my car on a daily basis and in turn putting strain on my back again. Each day I didn't know what I would find, sometimes I was nicely surprised being faced with a friendly bus driver and other passengers being helpful and friendly. On the days that I experienced bad journeys to and from work it was for a number of reasons. Some of the bus drivers attitudes towards me were poor, making me worry each time I saw it was specific drivers. They wouldn't be directly rude but they would react 'coldly' towards me, especially when the bus was busy. I also had some bad experiences with other passengers, in particular mothers with buggies which they weren't prepared to fold, keeping them in the space which is reserved for wheelchair users. Sometimes the driver would mention it and I was able to get on, but there were times when the bus driver quite obviously didn't care and so I was unable to get on the bus, having to wait for the next one. This made it difficult to use for work as I was time bound, to ensure I got to work in time I always left earlier than I perhaps needed to (this on it own would put people off) .

Train journeys are also something I choose not to do very often due to some of the difficulties that I have faced. This has meant that I have chose not to do certain activities because of this and so it has taken some of my independence away from me. For many years I would never use the train on my own because I was scared the process of special assistance would fail me, as it had many times before when I was with someone who was thankfully able to get someones attention if it was needed. Special assistance is put in place to prevent instances like this happening but sadly this system fails regularly for disabled people. Disabled people who require assistance are asked to ring at least 24 hours in advance, in return this should ensure that a disabled person and their needs are met fully unfortunately this rarely happens. I have found it is a lottery of train companies, some are much better than others. You can get on the train (usually after finding someone) but then you will get to your destination station and no one will be waiting for you! When you can't walk you can't get off the train to find someone and trains no longer have conductors. I have often thought that it would be simpler if Trains had a built in ramp on one carriage, similar to a bus, I have no doubt that the technology exists to do this it would just require someone to build it (I'm not holding my breath).

Despite this I have now got to the point, that my confidence has grown and I have now managed to go on the train independently (I have realised that if I am going to live my life then I need to bite the bullet even if it is challenging) and although I wouldn't say the process was completely smooth it was better than some of my earlier experiences and so although I wont do it very often by choice it has become more likely. This is the case for many situations of public transport, many of the changes that are needed are simple and more about the way I and other disabled people are treated rather than physical adaptation of equipment. Attitudes need to change with regards to this before anything really changes. It is societies problem as a whole not just the companies who run the transport systems (although this would be a good start).

I would like you to post comments with regards to this issue, sharing your experiences and starting a discussion as to what you think should be done to improve public transport for disabled people. The problems will continue to be problems until they are challenged. We need to work together for change.