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Using transport as a disabled person is not easy in 2016

Blog by Chris Cousens. This blog and its content reflect the views of the author only.

The following are a few examples of the discrimination that I face every day, living in London.

I use a 3-wheeled mobility scooter, as my main form of transportation.

Buses

When attempting to get on a bus, I am regularly confronted with comments about the weight of my scooter: you are too big, you might break the ramp….. When there are baby buggies in the disabled space, the parents refuse to fold them up, even when the driver specifically asks them to do so. I think folding seats should be installed on buses (as already the case in Brighton) in order for disabled people to get easy access to the wheelchair spaces.

Overground

I am a frequent traveler on London Overground trains. I shouldn’t have to ask for ramps in 2016! All Overground stations should be step-free. Once I was on the Overground from Highbury & Islington to Brockley but I had to get off at the next station, Honor Oak, as there weren’t any staff at Brockley to help me get me off the train. At Honor Oak I had to cross over to come back to Brockley. I was 30 minutes late to meet my friend. When I emailed the Head Office to complain, the response was ‘We apologize for the inconvenience’. Managers should be better informed about this issue and ensure their platform staff are properly trained to provide appropriate customer care to anyone with a disability. Only this week I again travelled from Highbury and Islington to Brockley. A phone call had been made at the start of my journey, but when I reached Brockley, the platform staff didn’t realize I needed a ramp. I held the train up for 5 minutes while the staff got the ramp!

On another occasion, I had an important hospital appointment at University College Hospital. I took the train from Canada Water to Green Park where I had to change, but because of poor signage, I got into the wrong carriage and, as a result, I had no option but to go as far as Kilburn station where I could get onto a stepfree train that would take me to my ultimate destination of Kings Cross. I was 90 minutes late for my appointment at UCH. I was also very stressed and anxious.

On one occasion my fellow Overground passengers had to actually look for the ramp to put down for me so I could get off the train- and this was after I asked at my boarding station(Stratford)for them to ring ahead to my destination station (Highbury & Islington), to say that I would need the ramp. This farce delayed everyone on the train, as well as me, by 15 minutes.

DLR

Although the DLR is fully accessible, sometimes the lifts are not working, and there are no announcements to say so. Once I was at West Ham DLR station, pressing the lift button for 15 minutes with no result. When I asked what was going on, the attitude seemed to be ‘it’s not my responsibility’. It takes less than 2 minutes to write out a notice to say the lift is broken!

Trains

In the past 3 months, I have travelled by train, without any problem, to Shrewsbury and to Oxford. However, when attempting the return to London on both of these occasions, I was told that I couldn’t travel on the train, due to the size of the scooter. What a fuss I had to make…but it’s made me less confident about going to towns outside of London.

Road

The upkeep of roads and pavements is generally poor, with roads full of potholes, thus providing a dangerous ride. The pavements are consistently broken. Pavement dips are not necessary level with the roads, and can cause damage to the mobility scooter.

The overall attitudes of the public are encouraging and helpful, especially when using the buses: occasionally, they ask the bus drivers to lower the ramps, and sometimes they even question the decision when I am not allowed onto the bus.

I haven’t been at the receiving end of disability hate crime, but if I hold the bus or the train up, this is when I get nasty looks!

Taxicard

I don’t feel safe about riding my scooter in the dark. Furthermore, if I go out after dark, I don’t know for certain that the bus will let me on. I have a London Taxi Card, but this scheme has never been very reliable, and thus I don’t go out to the theatre or the cinema at night.

The UK Government brought in the DDA in 1995, and the Equality Act in 2010. The legislation does not include any enforcement regulations. None of the UK political parties have the right attitude, being unwilling to prioritize this on their legislative agendas. Therefore disabled people do not have the means to challenge the everyday discrimination we suffer.

Recently I was in Valencia in Spain. I was able to use their public transport without any hassle: both the buses and the underground network. This was so liberating – I felt an equal within their society. On the plane back I had tears in my eyes, as I thought about what could be done to make life easier for people with disabilities.

Chris Cousens

(picture of Chris in Valencia)