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Disabled people must be at the heart of decision making to deliver more accessible transport

4 min read

I don’t want special treatment, I just want the same miserable experience of commuting as everyone else

When I was asked to write about transport I considered writing about guidance, regulations and legislation. I decided instead to use my lived experience as a wheelchair user and leave those reading this to help work out the solutions. It’s a long list of challenges and most are things that frankly non-disabled people barely have to consider. It’s not a rant: this is the toned down version. While the 2012 Paralympics were amazing they didn’t change the world for disabled people and it would be helpful to look to solutions rather than look to the past.

There has been a lot in the news lately about flying. Seriously if you can’t flag Frank Gardner’s name in the system to sort him out then what hope for the rest of us?

Buses have space for one wheelchair user and while the wheelchair/buggy conflict has been resolved through the courts I’ve been told some drivers won’t stop so they don’t have to deal with it. I won’t make a parent take a young baby out of the pram and fold it up. Fine in London when there is likely another bus in a few minutes but not so in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Taxis have improved a lot and while it might be easy to think of them as wheelchair accessible they are not accessible for all wheelchair users. Many people have told me a driver has started the metre before they get in and additional charging has been widely covered in the press. 

And that leads me on to electric car charging points. I tried to change my car to an electric one but I found that so many charging points are not accessible to me. We have certainly moved on from the Invacar but don’t blame disabled people for not caring about the environment when it is hard for us to change.

 I am expected to be at a train station around 30 minutes before the train departs

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 promised level boarding for trains. The date of 1 January 2020 felt like a long way off but the complexity of the system meant it wouldn’t be quick or easy. Since then every government has allowed derogations and the date is now 2070. In my lifetime I will not be able to get on most trains in the UK without the support or permission of a non-disabled person. Have a think about that every time you get to a station 10 minutes before a train and meander on. The booking time has now been dropped to two hours (from 24) but I am expected to be at a train station around 30 minutes before the train departs. Scooter users are also banned by some train companies or they demand you get off, fold it and walk on with it. I don’t want special treatment, I just want the same miserable experience of commuting as everyone else.

So where are we? I’ve experienced brilliant moments (arriving at King’s Cross station four minutes before the train left and getting on) but to be fair my experience is better than most because of the job that I have. If we are serious about disabled people being in work and contributing to society then transport is a big part of that. A report card would read “could do better”. Disabled people with expertise (there are many) need to be at the heart of decision making to help find solutions for a rolling programme for accessible stations and level boarding that’s fit for future generations as well as every other section of transport. Then we can make real change. It really shouldn’t be that hard. 

Baroness Grey-Thompson is a Crossbench peer

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