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It’s very frustrating knowing that even stations that have been made “fully accessible” are still lacking access!

Blog by Nina Grant. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

Nina is a wheelchair user. In this blog, she explains the issues she faces while travelling every day.

Buses:

Access to the wheelchair priority space

“Recently, in a single two week period, I was not allowed to board on one particular bus route four times due to there being either one or two buggies occupying the wheelchair space already. It was incredibly frustrating, because I know what the rules are that the drivers are supposed to follow but they weren’t doing so. The drivers of the buses with two buggies told me that having two buggies on board was an exceptional circumstance (it isn’t), and none of the four drivers asked the parents with the buggies to move or fold their buggies, offered them a transfer ticket for the next bus, or even played the automatic announcement. Only two of them even bothered to leave their seat to come and explain to me that I would have to get the next bus. It leaves me feeling like there is no point continuing to complain via TFL, as clearly nothing is improving from the bus company’s end”.

Broken ramps

“If a motorised ramp is broken or faulty, the bus is supposed to be returned to the depot as soon as possible, but I still find myself on buses with misbehaving ramps more frequently than I would like. I’ve been stuck on a bus before for nearly 20 minutes before, while the driver kicked the ramp, called the depot for advice, and asked other drivers at the bus station what to do. As well as embarrassed, it makes me feel very unsafe and worried that there is no way to get a wheelchair user off the bus safely in case of an emergency like a fire or a breakdown in the middle of the road. I’ve asked TFL buses about the possibility of an emergency manual ramp for instances such as these, and have been told that it is not currently possible”.

Bus drivers ignoring wheelchair users

“I find being ignored completely, for me, tends to go in conjunction with there already being a buggy in the wheelchair space, like the driver just can’t be bothered to try and mediate, or even to wait for me to ask the parent with the buggy to please move so we can both try to make our journeys. If the driver hasn’t acknowledged me through the windscreen, I usually go to press the “ramp request” button by the double doors so they know a wheelchair user is waiting. Sometimes a member of the public will offer to mention that I’m waiting, too, but if the driver doesn’t want to follow the rules, they just drive off anyway. Again, this is really embarrassing, as people will be staring at me obviously trying to board a bus, and not being able to”.

Bus drivers ignoring the blue button

“The blue “stop request” bell lets the driver know that a wheelchair user wishes to get off at the next stop so they should try to pull up somewhere safe for the ramp to deploy (such as away from steep slopes or bollards) and also sometimes keep passengers from boarding the bus so that the wheelchair user has time to move out of the priority space. I find sometimes this gets ignored so I end up sitting by the door waiting to be let out,when the bus starts moving off and I have to shout! It’s an easy oversight to make, but what really annoys me is that on half these occasions the driver tells me I should have pressed the blue bell if I wanted to get off, when I did! A relevant trend I’ve noticed in the last year or so, is for drivers to shout out to me when I board the bus, asking to know where I’m getting off. This makes me feel very anxious and self-conscious, because firstly I don’t like people shouting at me (who does?), and also because I have to explain where I’m going instead of just pushing the bell and getting off like everyone else. This is what the blue bell is supposed to be for, and drivers shouting to wheelchair users for this information is not inclusive for D/deaf or non-verbal wheelchair users either”.

Tube:

Most of the stations are inaccessible

“Just under a quarter of Tube stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users, which means we often have to take longer and more convoluted routes to our destinations. A major attraction, venue, or even a hospital nearby is no guarantee that the nearest station will be accessible. For example, someone who wasn’t a wheelchair user would take half an hour less time than I would to get to one hospital I visit regularly if we both started from my nearest accessible station. It’s not only frustrating that it takes me so much more time to get to places, but the more stations I need to go through to get somewhere, the more likelihood of encountering another unexpected issue. Even stations which claim to be fully wheelchair accessible can have problems for some wheelchair users. London Bridge’s Jubilee Line, for example, has a gap between the train and the platform, but also a height difference of a few inches meaning that smaller wheels and casters can get stuck. I was advised to “go in backwards”, but I have a six-wheel powerchair and my back casters are the same size as those at the front! It’s very frustrating knowing that even stations that have been made “fully accessible” are still lacking access!”

Broken lifts

“I learnt early on in my wheelchair-user-on-the-Tube career to religiously check the Twitter accounts of any Tube lines I was planning on using to make sure that there were no unexpected lift closures. However, the accuracy of this depends on the lift being taken out of service before I go underground, and also on the station actually reporting that it has a lift closure in the first place. The nearest accessible Tube station to my home was unexpectedly out of service one evening after I’d had a long day and needed to get home. The closure was unreported, and, because there was no alternative, I had to go back ten stops to the next accessible station and request that the staff there order me a taxi home (which is an option available to wheelchair users when there is an unexpected lift closure on the Tube, but relies on there being an accessible taxi available!) One of the most galling things about lift closures is that often they aren’t because of a breakdown, but a “shortage of staff” to operate the lift in the event of an emergency”.

Trains:

Lack of Turn-Up-and-Go assistance provision

“Wheelchair users are supposed to be able to “Turn Up And Go” from most stations in the UK, including the London Overground, instead of having to book assistance days in advance like we used to have to. This doesn’t mean it always runs smoothly, though. First of all, we still have to turn up with lots of time to spare so someone can be located to put the ramp into place when the train arrives (and often explain the Turn-Up-And-Go scheme to staff who reply that we should have booked assistance!). The staff also have to call the destination station to make sure that someone will be there to help the wheelchair user off the train, which has caused me to nearly miss a train going home at night before, as I wasn’t allowed to board until someone had picked up the phone at my destination! Despite this communication being necessary, I have long since lost count of the number of times I’ve had to sit in the door, and send my partner, friends, or poor members of the public off up the platform to let someone know that I need to be helped off the train!”

Most of the stations are inaccessible

“While most of the major terminals in London are accessible, the same can’t be said for smaller stations. This means lots of re-routing, buses, taxis, and extra time and expense to reach destinations. When I went to visit a friend last year, I could take the train to her local station, but had to get a taxi a few miles further to the next station for my return journey because only one side of her local station was accessible. Ironically this still counted as a victory, as I was able to visit a friend outside of London – I can’t go to see many of my friends or family due to no nearby stations having the right facilities. It frustrates me greatly that even in stations where there is plenty of space to work with, making them accessible to wheelchair users doesn’t seem to be a priority”.

Follow Nina on Twitter: @notwaving

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