I hope you are all well.
This is probably a rather long rant but I wanted to tell you about a recent experience that I had as I think it needs to be discussed. I’m hoping that it portrays the fact that not everything goes to plan, even when provisions are put in place and that there are flaws in the services for disabled people.
Earlier this week, I attended Sight Village. For those of you that don’t know what Sight Village is, it is an exhibition for blind and visually impaired people to attend where they can see the latest assistive technology and services among other things. I’ve done a lot of traveling with friends and family on buses, trains, planes and in the car and been on a plane by myself but something that I had never done was go on a train on my own using assistance. I’ve wanted to attend Sight Village for a while now but never had the time to go but this year I decided that I would go. My dad said that he wanted to come with me, so we decided that that would be a great opportunity for me to try out passenger assistance. We planned everything in advance: booked the train tickets and assistance, hotel and registered that we were attending Sight Village. We thought that if we did then everything would run smoothly, however we were wrong.
When arriving at my local station on Tuesday, we went to the passenger assist desk where the person told us to go to the required platform for our train. When getting to the platform, we suddenly thought that the person didn’t give us the option of an assistant guiding me to the platform, instead just assumed my parents would guide me. We let this go and just dismissed it as a minor issue. My train was finally called and it was now announced that there would be a change of platform. There were a few members of staff around but none of them made themselves known to me as my assistant so to avoid running for the train me and my parents started walking to the other platform. When we started walking, a member of staff came over to us and told us that he was my assistant. I did think that he should have done this a lot sooner and the provisions were slightly unorganised but we went with it.
When we got on the train, the assistant showed me to my seat and told me that he’d ring ahead to Birmingham to tell them that I was on the train and for them to come on and get my suitcase. I was happy with this and was glad that he was doing so.
We ended up being 66 minutes late arriving into Birmingham due to many problems, we were glad when we finally arrived. However, this is where the major problem occurred.
As the train pulled into the station me and my dad were getting ready to leave and we gathered our stuff ready to leave the train when the assistant came. However, this was the issue…the assistant didn’t turn up. We waited for a couple of minutes until we were rather certain that no one was coming. My dad quickly grabbed our suitcase and other things and we had to rush off the train.
When we were off the train, we stood there being 100 % certain that no one was going to come. The ticket woman got off the train and we walked over to her and told her what had happened. It was safe to say that she wasn’t bothered and couldn’t have cared less whether the assistant had or hadn’t have turned up. She wasn’t exactly going to help us resolve the issue either. One thing really annoyed me is that she spoke to my dad about me whilst I was stood there, rather than speaking directly to myself or both of us. Even when I spoke, she still did this. For disabled people, this is literally a pet hate! She walked off, not helping resolve the issue and we were left there. A cleaner was on the platform, yes a cleaner and they had heard the conversation so showed us to the customer relations office where we could complain about what had happened. The guy in customer relations looked up my name and did confirm that I was booked for assistance which we knew anyway and told us he’d get his manager to ring us the next day. It wasn’t the ticket person we had the major problem with, the main issue here was the fact that the passenger assistance service had failed.
The following day arrived and the manager did not ring us. When me and my dad went back to the station we went back to the office and double checked the assistance for our train later and luckily the same guy from the night before was on the desk. We explained that the manager hadn’t phoned us and he was in fact there in the building. We spoke to the manager in person and he didn’t really do anything, other than apologise. When getting my assistance that evening things did go a lot better, and ran much smoother than the night before.
I had written my experience on Twitter and Facebook and spoke to my blind and visually impaired friends at Sight Village and the thing that concerned me most was that the majority of my blind and visually impaired friends had experienced exactly the same thing that I had where the assistant doesn’t turn up and you are basically left stranded. I was lucky because my dad was with me, but what if i’d have been on my own? What was I meant to do? I’d have more than likely panicked, was I meant to find my way off the train by myself and be stranded on the platform or sit on the train until it terminated at another place and be stranded there as well? I’d have got off the train as quickly as I could by myself, but I shouldn’t have to consider these sort of things. The provisions that are in place should work. I’m blind, I can’t see where the door is/the step down from the train to the platform and the only use I have is my long cane and although they are good as a mobility aid, they don’t have eyes. This was my first time of using passenger assistance and it was an utter shambles. From speaking to my friends, this happens way too often. There’s been so many articles lately of blind and visually impaired people being refused access to taxi’s, restaurants to name a few, how is the failing of passenger assistance on trains any different from these sort of refusals? The service is there for disabled people and it gives them the same access to transport as everyone else, however when it doesn’t work this prevents people like myself from having access to it and most of all being independent. Disabled people have rights, just like everyone else. Why should we have to worry if our assistance is actually going to turn up and come up with solutions for getting off trains by ourselves and relying on the generosity of the public to take us to where we need to be? I know services and systems have their downfalls and not everything can always run smoothly but from my experience of passenger assistance and those of my friends, this happens way too often.
Last year, I used the special assistance service to fly to Belgium to meet a friend and not once did this service fail. So why is passenger assistance on trains so different?
I’m going to be completely honest, this experience has doubted my trust in passenger assistance. Will I always be thinking ‘will the assistant turn up?’ or ‘what do I do if they don’t come to get me off the train?’ Disabled people shouldn’t have to think like this all the time, it’s not fair on us and it certainly does not make us equal to non-disabled people.
I know that I can’t change these services through a blog post but what I can do is raise awareness of the issues that we face and tell you my own personal experiences. I try to be a positive person but when something like this happens, I think people need to be aware of the situation.
I’m hoping that my future experiences of passenger assistance aren’t the same as this one and does not become a regular occurrence for me and others in my situation.
I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post and help me raise awareness of the flaws in these services and that having a disability doesn’t make everything all plain and simple.
If you would like to share your experiences, then feel free to leave them in the comments section.