Increases to fares added to the ongoing industrial action highlight the need to consider disabled travellers in the debate about rail services.
Promises by the rail companies that higher charges will lead to improved services and facilities must extend to disabled passengers, and particularly to wheelchair-users.
With or without improvements, fellow passengers should be alert to the needs of people who have mobility or sensory impairments, especially as some rail operators continue to pursue policies of driver-only trains.
Our role is to help businesses and other organisations make their products and services accessible to disabled people, broadening their customer base and avoiding the likelihood of claims and costs from discrimination. As part of that I sit on various accessibility groups and am a founder member of BEAP – Network Rail’s Built Environment Access Panel.
It is clear there is much work to be done to make rail travel more convenient and comfortable for disabled leisure travellers and commuters, and the issue was highlighted recently when Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was stopped from boarding a train after a passenger told staff there wasn’t space for her.
The 11-time Paralympic gold medallist explained that everyone else on the platform was able to board the train, but she had to wait for the next one.
The episode reminded some of the ordeal experienced early last year by another Paralympian, Anne Wafula-Strike, who ended up wetting herself on a rail journey because the accessible loo was out of order.
It should be remembered that accessible spaces are not provided just to give non-disabled people a bit more room to dump their luggage. These larger areas should be made available if a disabled person needs the space for their wheelchair or other mobility aids. Legislation says that accessible spaces have to be provided on trains –it’s not as vague as with buses; it’s a legal requirement. Once on the train, disabled person should also be able to get to the accessible loo if required.
And without wanting to get drawn into the politics of the ongoing dispute between rail operators and the RMT, the introduction of driver-only trains is only likely to make things worse. If there’s no guard, who will assist a disabled passenger in the event of an emergency? With rail staff long gone from so many smaller stations, including at towns in East Yorkshire, who will get the ramp to help a disabled person get on and off a train? Even the most high-tech ticket machine can’t do that!
It would be nice to see disabled people have the same opportunity as non-disabled travellers – able to turn up and travel rather than have to book 24 hours in advance for assistance that might not be there.