Sam Renke is an actress and disability campaigner. She often shares her stories about her experience of using public transport. So we’ve asked her to write a two-part guest blog about how accessible transport is. In part one of her guest blog below Sam talks about what it’s like for a person with a disability to find their way around London using public transport.
Prominent public figures such as Anne Wafula Strike, Frank Gardner and me have all been going public with stories of horrendous acts of discrimination when using public transport.
And the whole ‘debate’, if we can call it that, surrounding inaccessible public transport for people with disabilities and others with additional needs has once again reared its ugly head.
Our stories are picked up by various media platforms and people shake their heads at the disgraceful treatment of disabled people. Then everyone agrees it’s not acceptable and it shouldn’t be happening in twenty-first century Britain.
Then. Then…well, nothing really. Nothing much changes. Talks subside until the next dreadful incident and people with disabilities, and others with additional needs, struggle to live independently.
I often question if in fact we are living in a third world when I read the hundreds of news articles and tweets about how people with disabilities, and others with additional needs, suffer when using public transport.
The stories range from people being left for hours on a plane, wetting themselves due to no accessible toilet, being bruised after being man-handled inappropriately off an aircraft, to simply being shouted abuse at by bus drivers who favour push chairs to prams.
I too have had my fair share of nail biting, uncomfortable and down-right humiliating travel experiences and I honestly have not noticed much positive change.
I moved to London just over six years ago, leaving my very rural Lancashire town called Leyland to pursue my dream in the Big Smoke.
For me the biggest appeal of London was the fact that it is just a melting pot of cultures, languages, religions, foods and customs. The diversity drew me in completely.
However, I soon became very disappointed by the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities and others with mobility issues. Not only are the majority of the underground services inaccessible, pavements are often in poor conditions and buses never really seem to understand priority spaces.
Only black taxis are legally obliged to have ramps installed, meaning any journey would cost you a small fortune. Buildings, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs favour being authentic and trendy over being accessible, with lots of venues being upstairs, in basements or simply too small. (I think the word used is quaint!).
London favours maintaining authentic, historic architecture over accommodating the 13.3 million people in the UK with a disability or additional needs, not to mention the growing ageing population who also could use some extra help when out and about.
I quickly realised I needed as much help as I could get if I wanted to maintain my independence in London. So I applied for the following schemes that help people with disabilities in London to access public transport.
This gives you subsidies when travelling by Black Taxis and you can apply for a Taxi Card from your Local Authority. The snag is you are only allocated a small amount of ‘rides’ depending on your ‘disability’ per year.
I receive 104 swipes a year and you need to use at least two swipes for one journey. This means I can only use my taxi card once a week. Yes, because us disabled folk only leave the house once a week for doctor’s appointment, right?!
Disabled Persons Rail Card
This gives you a third off for you and your PA (aka personal assistant, or carer) on rail journeys. You do, however, have to pay for an annual card – it’s not free. But, if you travel on trains frequently, like I do, it’s a good investment.
This gives you free travel across tubes. But let’s face it, hardly any of the tube stations are accessible. It also covers over-ground rail, busses, park and ride’s, etc. But, the pass excludes PA’s/carers.
The card enables a disabled cinema visitor to receive a complimentary ticket for someone to go with them when they visit a participating cinema (e.g. their PA/carer).
I’ve also found some useful apps and websites that help to know where is best to go for accessible buildings and everyday goods and services:
Access Advsir – accessadvisr.net
Neatebox – neatbox.com
assist-Mi – http://www.assist-mi.com
I hope you find them useful too.