I saw a post on Twitter today that really angered me. One of our Gold medal winning Paralympians, Sophie Christiansen OBE, had been stranded on a train because Great Western had not ensured there was a ramp for her when she arrived at Paddington Station.
The 28 year old, Paralympic dressage gold medalist said on her Twitter account on Monday: “What a welcome back by @NetworkRailPAD and @GWRUK – no ramp off train! #communication #SuperhumanToReality”
The Rio Paralympics have been over for a matter of weeks and already it’s clear to see that they’ve had no impact on access or attitudes to disabled people in the UK.
We were promised we’d see big changes after London 2012 and there were small changes but there’s been very little in the way of change since those games ended. Rio 2016 was going to be the games that changed everything though wasn’t it?
We won more medals than ever before, our Paralympians were hailed as Superhumans and the games were mentioned in most mainstream news broadcasts on channels other than Channel 4. The Maltesers adverts were trending on social media after featuring disabled actors and everyone was watching and enjoying the games and everything surrounding it.
And yet here I am reading that one of the superhumans we were all celebrating, had been left stranded on a train in our capital city because no one had bothered to get her a ramp.
Maybe Great Western took the Superhuman thing a bit too seriously?
According to the reports, Sophie had not requested assistance 24 hours before she traveled and that is why the ramp wasn’t provided. But why should she have to do that?
What if she had booked it but missed the train she’d booked assistance on because a meeting ran over at work or her taxi was late or she decided to stop for a glass of wine first?
Why shouldn’t she have the same options to travel as everyone else, at the drop of a hat if she wants?
We live in a time when everything is done for our convenience, we have apps on our phones which make every aspect of our lives easier and we can get something delivered almost as soon as we’ve ordered it. We are encouraged to live in the moment and think nothing of changing plans we’ve made if something better crops up.
So, why do disabled people still have to be more organised than anyone else if they want to have access to the country they live in and pay taxes in? Why shouldn’t they expect to be able to live just like we do? Without having to plan every aspect of the day?
Of course using a ramp currently requires a member of staff to bring it to the carriage, attach it and then remove and restore it somewhere else so staffing levels need to be right to allow disabled people to travel. But even when people are pre-booking they are sometimes being left stranded as the assistance fails to arrive or is late in coming. So what’s the answer?
The Back to the Future movie promised us we’d have hover boards and flying cars by now but we haven’t even got a fully accessible transport system which wheelchair users can take without having to rely on assistance from other people.
But why aren’t our trains being designed with disabled users in mind? Why is there not a button a wheelchair user can press to deploy a built in ramp much like we have in a wheelchair assisted vehicle? Is that too much to ask of a modern day train in 2016?
Why is there not an app a wheelchair user can use to book assistance when they are on the way to the station, or on the train about to arrive at their destination? An app would allow them to change the assistance booking if they were running late or decided to take a different train.
Maybe priority could be given to those who do pre-book 24 hours before their journey and those that wait until the last minute might expect to have to wait a few more minutes to be able to disembark the train?
Why aren’t these systems in place already and who is working to make sure they are in place soon? So that disabled people can travel just like the rest of us can, without feeling like a burden or a second class citizen who has to rely on other people.
Let’s hope the fact that it was a superhuman who was left stranded on that train might actually open some eyes and get people talking about ways to make these changes happen sooner rather than later.
I won’t hold my breath though!