As a child, I was used to being chauffeured around in our family car. Wherever I wanted to go, my family would take me. Why? Because public transport was a complete no-go for me as a wheelchair user.
Now, it’s a different story. I am a typical 20-something who does the typical London commute. And I love it because it really gives me a sense of normality.
Let me tell you two stories, both happened to me and will demonstrate just how far this country has come.
I don’t know exactly how old I was but I was pretty little and visiting London for one of my many hospital check-ups. We had driven up from Wales as per usual. But taking a wander through London post medical-poking and prodding, we spotted an “accessible” bus. I was super excited. I had never seen an accessible bus before, let alone got on one. My parents agreed we should take a ride, just to try it out.
That poor child only wants to ride the bus…
But…that bus journey never happened. Drivers would stop and tell me the ramp was broken, or there was no space. One driver saw me (and all the other people at the stop) and kept on driving. This caused much controversy, with people exclaiming in horror: ‘That poor child only wants to ride the bus…’
It was true, I did just want to ride the bus. I actually created quite a scene where fellow bus passengers refused to get on the bus until I was allowed on. In the end, we walked away. All the excitement of the opportunity to get on a bus had dissipated and I was left still thinking public transport was a no-go for me.
Let’s fast forward at least 10 years. This weekend I took a trip to Greenwich. From my place in South London that involves three trains. As a wheelchair user, trains can be pretty hit and miss. You are supposedly meant to book ramp assistance at least 24-hours in advance, and even that is no guarantee you’ll be able to get off the train at your desired stop. I didn’t book the ramp because I don’t like my life being dictated by red tape. It could well have backfired. I may have ended up in Dartford or Brighton or many other places. But, it didn’t backfire. I made the journey by myself and in record time. That, in itself, shows how far public transport has come.
But, I still really dislike that my ability to go where I want is so heavily reliant on other people. Of course as a disabled person, I am inherently reliant on people to allow me to live independently. As are we all. If you really think about, is there really such a thing as independence? Interdependence is a far better term for describing how individuals interact with the world around us. But, I digress. Within the UK public transport system, there is far too much room for human error. When I can’t get a bus, it is usually because the driver has parked incorrectly. When I get stuck on a train, it is because the message hasn’t been passed on that I am on that train.
I want to see an infrastructure that removes the barriers disabled travellers face.
Technology has taken such huge strides that I really think we should be looking at this to improve public transport. Let’s be ambitious. Let’s fight for trains that have built in ramps, that we ourselves could activate. Why should other people hold the power of where and when we go? I don’t want to see just small changes, I want to see an infrastructure that removes the barriers disabled travellers face.
There’s been some great changes, but that isn’t an excuse to stop there.
Written by Lauren West
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