Recently Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike revealed that she was forced to wet herself on a train because the accessible toilet was out of order. Unfortunately, this situation is way too familiar to many Disabled and older people. This year TfA will be lobbying and campaigning to improve the accessibility of our railways and ensuring that the rail industry and the Department for Transport take decisive action to stop Disabled people being treated like second class citizens.
Wafula Strike needed to use the accessible toilet but found that it was out of order, on a journey between Nuneaton and Harlow, which is usually scheduled to last two hours and 48 minutes. A member of the train crew suggested she could get off the train when it stopped at a station, but there were no staff there to help her so she was unable to get off the train.
Wafula Strike says she was left profoundly humiliated and “completely robbed of her dignity” after a three-hour journey with no accessible toilet.
She has gone public with her ordeal because “too many people with disabilities suffer in silence”.
A scandalous issue faced regularly by Disabled and older people
Following her going public Anne received many messages of support from Disabled and older people who have faced the same experience. Wheelchair basketball player Ade Adepitan recently told the Guardian that he has had to “pee into a bottle in the past when the accessible toilet wasn’t working”.
The humiliation that Anne went through is unfortunately a regular occurrence for Disabled and older people travelling on our railways.
Transport for All has heard of many scandalous stories similar to hers and we know of people who have stopped travelling by train altogether after losing their confidence.
TfA member Youcef Bey-Zekkoub, a wheelchair user, told us that he recently had a similar experience. Youcef said “I have little if any control over my bowel/bladder and generally must use the toilet at least every 1 hour. I always plan my journeys extremely carefully and carry my RADAR Key with me so that I know where I can access an accessible toilet. However, on Saturday 31st Dec I travelled on Southern Rail from London Bridge to Streatham Hill. Regrettably, when I arrived to Streatham Hill I found that the waiting room where the accessible toilet is situated was locked. I was with my 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter; I wet myself and was so cold. This nice day out with my kids turned into a nightmare. I was so angry and shivering in the freezing cold weather. This happens to me very often even though I have my RADAR Key with me”.
TfA director Faryal Velmi recently told the BBC and The Guardian that “Anne’s case is another example of how we are treated as second-class citizens when travelling. Train companies that make handsome profits for their shareholders need to invest resources in ensuring that accessible toilets – and indeed all toilets facilities – are kept open and maintained for all customers.”
Wafula Strike’s story also highlight the fact that Disabled and older people need the presence of staff available to assist them, without having to book 24 hours in advance.
A major obstacle to travelling
For many Disabled and older Londoners, lack of toilet provision is a major obstacle to travelling. Toilets on the transport network are not always accessible, nor clean. Concerns about finding usable toilets are the source of a great deal of stress and anxiety for older and Disabled people when they travel. It often restricts them from venturing very far from where they know there are accessible toilets and severely limits the freedom of many.
On top of that, Disabled and older people often have to face situations when accessible toilets are out of order or used as storage (In June, we learned that Bicycles were being stored in accessible toilets on some of Eurostar’s international services to and from France). Recently TfA member Chris Stapleton highlighted the fact that many toilets are doubled locked on the Tube and are therefore inaccessible, even when someone has the official RADAR key.
Increasing the provision of public toilets, and improving the accessibility and pleasantness of existing toilets, must be a priority for transport providers. The views of Disabled and older people must also be taken into account when designing toilets.
This includes Crossrail. It’s great news that there will be step-free access to all new Crossrail stations. Yet Crossrail must recognise that accessibility does not end with lift installation. We contacted Crossrail 2 and emphasised the importance of accessible toilet provision at Crossrail 2 stations and on trains. Crossrail 1 only fitted passive toilet provision onto trains (i.e. so toilets could potentially be fitted at a later date).
Meeting with Transport minister to highlight rail access issues
It’s a disgraceful situation. Many Disabled people require urgent access to toilet facilities. As Anne Wafula Strike says: “Having access to a toilet, especially in a developed nation like the UK, is one of the most basic rights.”
“I may have an impairment but the barriers society puts in my path are the real handicap”.
Transport for All is planning many actions this year to ensure that our right to access rail is respected. We will meet Paul Maynard MP, one of the transport ministers, on the 17th of January to discuss rail access issues.