Consider this. In the course of one planned trip you have multiple taxis and buses drive past you without stopping. You have bus and train drivers shout at you, citing ‘no room’ and ‘no time’. What’s more, this follows a six hour delay that saw others getting to their destinations hours ahead of you, while you sat on and watched. Of course you’d be enraged, disappointed and left wondering why the transport system would have such a hard time providing a basic level or service to you, one they were obliged by law to provide.
And then you remember… The world that has been telling you that you can do whatever you set your mind to, that if you can dream you can achieve… is not much use if you can’t venture past your own front door. For your disability is the inconvenience of the able bodied, and despite paying twice as much as those without disabilities, you get only a fraction of the service on public transport.
Sunday 9am: Arrive at the train station only to be told there is a bus connection replacing this stop and it does not take wheelchairs. You ask what their plan is for passengers in wheelchairs and are told there is none. You should have pre-booked. Explain quite nicely that if you could have pre-booked a fully functioning body you would have. That they have a duty of care to provide the same service to disabled passengers as to the able bodied ones who are off to their destination on the bus.
Sunday 1pm: Finally get to the station the next town over after lots of coffee and secret tears in the toilet.
Sunday 2pm: Arrive in London Waterloo. You are well travelled and have been here many times. You know your way around.
Sunday 2.15pm: Flag down the correct bus. Driver spots you waving and in a wheelchair but lets on a full bus load of people before you. Those people take up the designated wheelchair space on the bus. Despite your partner and carer verifying with the bus driver that you were seen, driver shouts at your partner asking ‘what do you expect me do, tell these people go get off’? Unfortunately this is not new, and buses have been known to drive straight past because they can’t be bothered to let down the hydraulic ramp that all London buses are fitted with. Wait for next bus.
Sunday 4.30pm: Arrive at destination after braving buses and their contentious drivers. You are five hours later than you should have been, even with the transport times that are often 4-5 times that of transport which is inaccessible to you as a disabled traveller. You have no time to rest, as you had planned, only cry, take more pain medication and attend your event.
Monday 10am: Take your level access route pre-determined by the Transport for London (TFL) site. Level access is supposed to mean no steps, but the TFL and the bus/train/taxi companies have a shaky grasp of what the word ‘level’ means.
level (adjective): at the same height
Monday PM: Miss Mondays meeting altogether because of trains and buses. More of same.
Tuesday am: Try to get home. Get told by one guard that Waterloo has lifts working. Driver says different and tells you to get off stop before. Again skewed understanding of level access. Much wheel spinning and bruised spine.
After trek to Waterloo, guard for your train, who is responsible for fetching the ramps each train is equipped with tells you that with five minutes left till the train leaves, he does not have time to get you on the train. He is standing next to the ramps so you insist. He asks you if you have pre-booked and you present him with tickets. He murmurs, ‘I’ll just go to ask….urm…’.
He does not return, you watch him moments later jump on the train and blow the whistle for the train to leave. The train departs without you. You cry, again!
Now, if this were an isolated incident I could see people saying I was making a fuss over nothing. That I should be glad of my ‘seat’ in the train next to the smelly toilets and that there are such facilities to help me on board. I should be so very grateful to be included in the world of able bodied people, and cheerfully laugh off the incidents where I am left, dalek like (the old fashioned ones, before they could fly – man, flying would make this whole disability gig so much easier) in front of a kerb whose precarious ‘drop’ has been neglected altogether, and chortle with friends later in the pub about how I nearly got mowed down by a double decker after being left with no choice but to travel a portion of the pavement in the side of the road.
So why do I do this to myself, if my feeble body and darn fragile emotions not only need me to be accompanied at all times to ensure my safety (enter devoted husband to be), but leave me feeling in the least bit upset at being ignored, devalued, subjugated and nearly flattened. How thin skinned can you get?
On a normal day, in my ‘day job’ as cripple behind a computer, fighting ‘da man’ with my words and my (surprisingly to some) still fully functioning brain, I am just that, an equal rights campaigner. When I’m not exhausted and beaten down, I fight the good fight of raising awareness of inequality across the board, so that not only myself and my peers, but generations to come will not have to deal with this complete and total bullshit!
Without people speaking up and highlighting the gross inconsistencies in treatment faced by contingents of society for whom policy apparently already exists, how can we expect things to change, to get better? When people making these policies are ‘unaware’ that they are not being actioned on the ground, in real everyday life, we need to find a way of making them listen, making them aware, and making them give a shit about the effect that this sort of deliberate discrimination has on real people, with real lives, and not just a bunch of numbers on a sheet.