I'm sure you'll have heard about NoGoBritain - a campaign about the lack of accessible public transport provision, spearheaded by Tanni Grey-Thompson. Today if you visit #nogobritain you will see people live-tweeting their experiences of public transport provision. If you've not encountered these stories before they could be shocking, but a lot of disabled people could have reeled them off before they were even posted. A lot of public transport is still not accessible for physically disabled people (and a lot, I think, could be done to improve access for people who are learning disabled or have mental health impairments). Here, off the top of my head is a list of some ways public transport is not accessible to me.
Starting with when I was a wobbly walker rather than a wheelie :
- 'perching' benches that don't let you take your weight off your feet were no good for me
- buses with steps = ouch + trip hazard
- bus drivers almost never wait for people to sit down before pulling off (the number of falls this caused me I can't even count)
- this is compounded by wet and slippery floors (maybe can't be helped, but is still an access problem)
- the priority seats fill up first because they're closest to the door, and you'd be astounded at the effort people go to to avoid eye contact when they're sitting in them. People will point blank ignore requests, or simply refuse to move even when they've said that they don't need the seat
- that's if you can even get to the priority seats through the crowd of people standing (I used to leave early for uni to avoid rush hour)
- the number of times I was shouted at, sworn at, threatened, even physically assaulted on one occassion for not 'giving up my seat for someone who needs it' (can't possibly be disabled at 20) would make you disbelieve my earlier point!
- bus drivers here only stop if you've got up an are standing by the door. Ringing the bell isn't enough. Even when there are posters in the bus saying 'stay in your seat until the bus has stopped'
- you have to get to and from the bus stop. This is a problem of joined up design. For example, my local hospital is up hill, about 150m from the nearest bus stop, when a lot of the patient group are likely to use public transport (and the tiny car park makes it the only sensible option) and those going to a hospital are more likely than other destinations to have mobility impairments.
And that's just buses! Other forms have similar issues, but some extra...
- train stations an underground stations often feature stairs quite heavily
- mobility assistance needs to be booked 24 hours in advance, and requires being able to climb into the blue buggies
- underground stations are ridiculously hot and crowded, which as someone who faints frequently makes them no go areas
- when platforms are not put up on the departure board until 5 minutes before departure, or there are last minute platform changes, this is very problematic - I was once knocked over and stood on during a last minute platform change on my journey to a placement
- equally when long distance trains turn off reservations because the train is busy or whatever, this means that those who need a chair are often not able to find one. If you can find a member of staff then they can help, but when corridors are crammed full or they're far away this just isn't possible. One journey I ended up sitting in the luggage rack. Another (particularly memorable) journey was spent sitting on the floor of the toilet.
Since being a wheelie, I face many of the same issues. There is the benefit that no matter what happens I always have somewhere to sit. However, there are plenty more problems to replace that one! :
- Any time I want to use a train, I have to tell the station 24 hours in advance
- This by no means guarantees that the booked assistance will arrive. I now phone ahead to the station I'm going to an hour and half an hour before I get in to make sure they come to get me. Even if I can get myself and my wheelchair off the train without a ramp I generally can't make it all the way down a long platform under my own steam.
- I've had mobility assistance personnel forget about me, attempt to wheel me and the ramp simultaneously nearly pushing me off the edge of a platform, call me 'the wheelchair', dislocate my wrist by starting to push my chair when I'm already pushing, yadayadyada
- I can't get to my closest bus stop under my own steam because the pavement is so cracked and cambered
- I've found that 1 in 3 buses will be successful for me - 1 won't stop or the driver will say the ramp is broken / they have a bad back / there's a pram in it, 1 won't be accessible and 1 will let me on
- Particularly the route running to the hospital that most of my treatment is based out of never runs an accessible bus. I think this is because they are smaller and the roads are small are tight cornered, but the whys don't really matter when they have the same effect. Legally they'll have to solve it by 2015 anyway. In theory.
- Some local bus stops are too small for the bus to actually pull in to the pavement because there are cars parked at each end - this means the bus is too high from the ground for the ramp to work
- Some local buses have a kind of passageway through to the wheelie space, which is too narrow for my standard sized wheelchair to fit through
- On trains without a wheelchair space I just kinda have to sit by the doors. On a busy service this is really scary when a wave of people just rushes at you. Also, I'm at crotch/bum height to some and armpit height to others. Joy.
- I have had people remove to move luggage from the wheelie space (I know the luggage racks are small, but if you brought 2 smaller bags rather than 1 big one it would fit in the overhead rack / under your seat / on your lap). I have had people hem me in with luggage so I couldn't use the toilet for an entire journey. For that matter, the toilets are not accessible for me without assistance.
- There are normally 1 or 2 wheelchair spaces on a train. If they're booked you have to change your plans. If the standard class space is booked but the first class is not, you can't use the first class space without a first class ticket.
I'm sure I've forgotten some.
As well as this, being out in public as a wheelchair user can be quite scary. I've been shouted at and had stuff thrown at me, and it's a year since I've been using a chair at all - 6 months since I've been using it regularly.
For that matter, taxis are rubbish too sometimes, but that's not the point of today. They are the only way that I can leave the house independently at the moment. I'm learning to drive so that I can have some more independence, and not have to rely on taxis which are expensive and unreliable. Ideally I would be able to have my car for some things and use public transport for the rest - I don't want to be reliant on a car - but that own't be possible at the moment. It's too unpredictable, and as someone with chronic fatigue and chronic pain, I can't be as flexible (pun intended) about things like how long I'm out of the house as other people.
Small improvements will be helpful, but not helpful enough. Because my home isn't level access I couldn't store a powerchair or mobility scooter. It's this compound inaccessibility that is really disabling. Getting to an inaccessible bus from an inaccessible home on inaccessible pavement going to an inaccessible workplace. Without the support of my partner to help me use public transport, or money from my parents that allows me to use taxis sometimes (although my activities are very limited by my taxi budget) I wouldn't be able to leave the house at all.