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Why the British Transport system is essentially ableist and humiliating

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Being a disabled traveller in 2018 Britain is to live in a country that is not made for you, and to use infrastructure built to exclude you.

Tube Station

Being disabled means fighting for accessibility on a daily basis.

Thankfully, an alarm has finally been raised on how dismal our transport systems are for disabled people through the news.

Multiple stories of shoddy services, staff doubting people’s disabilities and even resorting to conflict have been reported recently.

It is wrong and unjust.

Why does being a disabled traveller today mean that I, my mother or so many others must feel humiliated?

Within the last month, several major cases of disabled mistreatment on transport occurred.

Firstly, Jet2 demanded a ten-year-old boy prove he was disabled.

Meanwhile Sara Harvey, while travelling on Northern Rail to a wedding in Bolton, was told by guards that she wasn’t allowed to her mobility scooter onboard, despite her need due to Ehler Danlos Syndrome.

In a video recorded by her and her husband she speaks distraughtly in front of staff about them wanting to  “chuck us off”.

Talking to The Echo she later described how she was treated like a "criminal” because she could only afford a scooter.

Northern Rail have apologised for the “unacceptable experience”, but the repeated nature of such events seem to suggest it is an acceptable experience to them. 

Furthermore, Canadian comedian Tanyalee Davis described being “harassed and humiliated” for using disabled spaces.  

Within the space of five days, she twice encountered the inaccessibility and ableism which plagues our train system.

The first came on 17th July during a Great Western Railway journey from Plymouth to London when “a woman got on with a pram”

The guard told her to get rid of her scooter, despite the pram-user having no right to the space, stopping the train and even threatening to call the police.

Mortified, Davis says she “cried for most of the journey home”.  

While GWR declared the company were “collectively horrified” by the video of the incident, five days later she experienced another mishap. 

This time although a guard was helpful, the communication between stations failed meaning no-one helped her off at York and she was suddenly “off to Darlington”, nearly missing a performance she had that night. 

Although ONS Opinion surveys in 2010-2011 showed that 1 in 5 of the disabled people surveyed had trouble accessing public transport, I would suggest over the intervening seven years this has simply become worse. 

There is ableism and inaccessibility through both staff delivery of services and the transport itself.

Not only are staff not being trained well enough on how to deliver an accessible service, the powers they have are also too limited and communication of policies by companies and government to staff is also not good enough. 

Studies into the experiences of disabled people, and views on disabled people, show how this situation on our transport might have arisen, and why change is desperately needed. 

According to the University of Glasgow’s 2011 report views on disability have become increasingly negative since 2004 due to media coverage.

Disabled articles rose during the period with terms such as scrounger, cheat and skiver being used in 18% of articles up from 12%.

Benefit fraud also went from featuring in 2.8% of articles to 6.1%, with a focus group over-emphasising the amount of fraud present by claiming that 70% of claimants were fraudulent.

The development of negative disability views is clearly impacting people.

2015 saw the Crown Prosecution Service report a 213% rise in disabled hate crimes.

Equally, Scope’s 2014 report found that 49% of the disabled people surveyed had been talked to by someone who doubted they were disabled while 4% reported they’d experienced attacks in that year.

Information like this highlights how necessary it is to solve inaccessibility and ignorance on transport.

It won't solve all ableism, but will be a start.

Thankfully, there are signs that the government, courts and companies are starting to take action.

A landmark 2017 Supreme Court case saw disabled campaigner Doug Paulley win his case regarding his treatment trying to get a Wetherby to Leeds FirstBus in 2012.

The driver sided with a woman with a pushchair, opting to leave Paulley to miss a lunch with family.

The court ruled that bus companies had to do more to prioritise these spaces for wheelchair users.

In March 2018, the government backed this decision with Transport Minister, Nusrat Ghani promising to improve access as “passengers with disabilities must have the same opportunities to travel as other members of society”.

The government, amidst the press coverage of these transport issues, have finally published plans to combat it.

The Department of Transport call it their "Inclusive Transport Strategy" and state their intention to ensure disabled citizens “can travel confidently and easily” on a fully-accessible transport system by 2030.

Part of achieving this involves making £300 Million available for network improvements. 

Only time will tell if the ITS plan succeeds, but this commitment to ensuring an accessible system by 2030 is desperately needed.

Disabled people deserve to travel "confidently and easily" and not be left feeling "humiliated" anymore. 

 

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