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Does Public Transport Cater Enough to those with Disabilities?

Public transport has seen a massive increase in accessible routes in the past 20 years, but is it doing enough?


Every form of transport has found a way to cater to those with disabilities but not all oblige. Likewise, most transport providers have only really considered how to make their options wheelchair-friendly, entirely excluding a large majority of those who class themselves as disabled.


The legal definition of disability: “They have a physical or mental impairment, and. the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”

So just what are they doing?


Trains


Wheelchairs are allowed on trains thanks to many trains and stations having ramps and allocated wheelchair spacing. However, those who require assistance must advise rail staff ahead of arrival that they will need help boarding and disembarking. Passenger Assist, a National Rail service, allows riders to book up to 2 hours ahead of their journey to organise their booking. They also assist those with non-visible impairments.


There is also a Disabled Persons Railcard that allows members to get up to 1/3 off of their train travel.


Planes


Accessibility across airlines varies massively. Likewise, airports differ massively, and you will have to plan to be at your most prepared. UK and EU airports give you the rights to receive help at specifical arrival points, help to reach check-in, registration at check-in, help with moving through the airport and help to board the plane, get information about your flight, help to find a seat that suits your needs and helping to move around the plane.


However, you’re not allowed to take your own wheelchair into the passenger cabin of a plane – this can be distressing to wheelchair users as their wheelchairs are effectively their home; they’re with them almost 24/7, so to be detached from that safe place would be pretty alarming. You will be allowed to travel with a companion and with an assistance dog if necessary.



If you receive wheelchair assistance in the airport, you won’t have to go through the gate but will be subject to a body search instead. Staff are required to ask you if you are in pain anywhere. They will have to touch you anyway (avoiding your private parts), but they will usually be gentle. Make sure you tell them immediately if something is too painful or if you are asked to move in a way you can’t manage.


It would also be worth noting that some prostheses have to be removed for security reasons. However, you can request a private room for this. With the introduction of body scanners, some argue that the devices are incredibly invasive. According to the Disabled Travel Advice:


“Many disabled people are uncomfortable about these scanners. They may highlight anatomical differences which you would rather keep private. If you don’t want to go through such a search you are within your rights to refuse but you will normally have to go through a manual search as an alternative. It’s up to you to decide which you feel is less intrusive.”


Image Credit: Jakub Pabis on Unsplash


Cars, Buses and Coaches


In the UK, we have The Motability Scheme. The scheme can help you lease a car, powered wheelchair or scooter. You can get a bus pass for free travel if you’re disabled, and the law says that bus and coach drivers must give reasonable assistance to disabled people.


You are also eligible for a Blue Badge if you score within the threshold on the mobility score of your Disability Allowance.


Taxis


In some areas, licensed taxis have to be wheelchair accessible. If you travel with an assistance dog, they must be allowed into the taxi. There is also Uberassist.


Regarding taxis, London has one of the most accessible systems in the world, with every black cab in London being wheelchair friendly. However, with taxis skyrocketing in price for extended journeys and disabled people already having to spend more than non-disabled people, it seems slightly unfair that the cost doesn’t correlate with access.


Likewise, London is famed for being “one of the best public transport systems in the world,” yet only a third of the tube stations have step-free access. Not only this, but tubes are incredibly fast-paced, and the rush to board and depart is not a situation any person would like to be in, let alone those who require more time.


Jamie Hale, UK poet and artist, has expressed their concerns about the UK’s transport system. Hale uses a wheelchair and has subsequently proposed solutions to making transport more accessible:

  • Ensuring all trains have proper spaces for wheelchair users;

  • Improving how those requiring assistance to alight from public transport can alert staff members on a platform when the necessary help hasn’t arrived;

  • Increasing the number of dedicated assistance staff members available for those using public transport;

  • Introducing automated ramps which extend from trains to platform level;

  • Making it free for carers and assistants to use public transport.

Image Credit: Screenshot taken from everyonesjourney.campaign.gov.uk


In 2020, the Department for Transport ran a campaign titled ‘It’s everyone’s journey,’ which aimed to champion equal access on public transport. They reiterated that travel is difficult for everyone, especially those with disabilities. They argued that it can be challenging to access the right information and advice when travelling and that there could be a greater understanding for those who require additional support when using public transport:


“What a funny old lot we can be, whilst travelling from A to B, stampeding and huffing, and barging and tutting. We can do better than that. So just a tad, a smidge, it’s nicer, wouldn’t you say? See, a little consideration goes a really long way. Remember, it’s everyone’s journey.”

Their campaign video shows the rushed nature of public transport. In the clip, people turn to animals, supposedly to show the inhumane nature of ignoring those in need. As these ‘animals’ realise that more people may need help, they return to a human cartoon by helping those who may need more assistance. The video hardly indicates what ‘disability’ those may classify themselves as, which further amplifies their message that being kinder, in general, will help both those with a visible and non-visible disability.


Whilst we’re making strides in the accessibility of transport, there is a lot to be done. Most transport solely examines and assesses the needs of wheelchair users and visual impairments and often excludes other disabilities.


Lead Image Credit: CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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