Travel shouldn’t be such a trauma for disabled people

Ruth Owen by Ruth Owen
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Like many of you, I read with disappointment in the news last week about Paralympic athlete Anne Wafula-Strike who, because of the lack of an accessible toilet, ended up wetting herself on a cross country train journey.

I was disappointed, not only because of the horrible situation Mrs Wafula-Strike found herself in, but also because I was not shocked or surprised by what I was reading.

As a full-time wheelchair user myself, I know only too well how difficult it can be to find yourself stuck on a long journey with no accessible facilities. I’ve been on trains where the toilets have been vandalised, have broken down, or are simply locked – and no one on board has a key. And while I’ve been fortunate not to find myself in Mrs Wafula-Strike’s situation, I know how isolating and distressing it can be to use public transport when accessibility is not taken seriously.

The young people Whizz-Kidz work with often tell us about situations where – despite the best intentions of train and station staff – they’ve missed their stop, or been left stranded on a train for the want of a ramp. Many of them tell us how it’s practically impossible for them to do anything spontaneously that might involve using public transport, as the system is simply not designed to accommodate the needs of a wheelchair user without booking in advance. Some, we know, simply fork out for taxis, to considerable personal expense, to ensure they can get from A to B.

Last night I spotted on Twitter that BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner had found himself in a situation I, like many wheelchair users, am all too familiar with; stuck on an empty aeroplane due to a lack of special assistance.

It is so important that these services, which in effect make plane travel possible for wheelchair users, are in place, are effective and, most importantly, are there when they are needed. The airline and the airport can only do so much and, without these special assistance services, the needs of wheelchair users simply cannot be met.

I, like so many of our young people, love to travel; but the experience itself can all-too-often be demoralising, traumatic, inconvenient and humiliating.

Together with our Travel Alliance partners, our Get on Board Campaign is designed to help operators understand the needs of disabled people, and design their services with accessibility in mind. We’re proud to work alongside our partners across the transport sector and genuinely believe that we will be able to affect real change. As we’ve seen from the experiences of Mrs Wafula-Strike and Mr Gardner – like so many of our young people – there is still a lot of work to be done. 

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