Disabled passengers are still having to fight for fairer travel. Eight-time Paralympic gold medalist Sophie Christiansen kindly shares her experiences with us.
This is a guest post by Sophie Christiansen. All views expressed are Sophie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Earlier this month, I noticed that it had been a year since Hollie-Anne Brooks featured as a guest here on Which? Conversation, discussing her own access experiences.
But what’s actually changed in that time? In August, this happened to me when I attempted to leave a train:
This is what happened when I got back last night after @SW_Help said they told the guard I was on the train.
I went home and I cried. It finally hit me that society is just not going to change to make services truly accessible. I will have to accept discrimination all my life. pic.twitter.com/icFCxyUBZO
— Sophie Christiansen (@SChristiansen87) August 22, 2019
I was told that there was a guard onboard that would help me off. There wasn’t. I cried when I got home that day.
I’ve since written to my local MP and started a government petition – I want to see the Equality Act both enforced and respected. Are phrases such as ‘reasonable adjustments’ too vague and only allowing companies to get around it?
I’m still seeing buildings and infrastructure going up seemingly without a thought given to access needs. It’s so humiliating to rely on help when simple fixes, such as permanent ramps instead of steps, could be implemented.
Travelling by train
The video I’ve included above reached thousands of people on Twitter – I was grateful for the kind words and support I received a result.
It’s such a shame, however, that these are not isolated incidents. Hollie’s experiences sound only too familiar, while I also read the BBC’s Frank Gardner’s story with interest.
Earlier this year, my fellow Paralympian athlete Anne Wafula Strike was awarded a financial settlement, after yet another regrettable incident on the trains.
I want to see improved communication between booking, platform and train staff. For example, what’s the progress on the introduction of this app?
I feel that collecting data on these experiences should also be a priority – how often do passengers not get the help they need? How can we use this data to prevent these incidents from happening again?
Investment in level access and automatic ramps is something that can’t come soon enough, while disabled toilets (that actually work!) are a must. These companies must remember the fact that if the toilet in my carriage is out of order, I cannot move down the train to find another one.
It’s also important to remember that these injustices are not just limited to trains. Two years ago, I would have missed a flight to Athens if my boyfriend hadn’t been with me to help me up the steps.
I had stated when I booked that assistance would be required, but due to flaws in the check-in procedures before and after security, the ambulift was not in place.
The equality I’m seeking doesn’t end with transport. From fully accessible housing to employment and care provisions, I want to see changes across the board to help give myself and others, such as Hollie, the better quality of life and day-to-day treatment and respect we deserve.
I feel like disability issues have been ignored and, in some cases, swept under the rug for so long that the problems have only piled up.
I want to see action to prevent things from getting worse. The more we put access and equality on the agenda, the more chance we stand of reaching equality in the UK.
This was a guest post by Sophie Christiansen. All views expressed were Sophie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Thank you very much to Sophie for sharing her experiences with us for Which? Conversation. Getting on and off of transport should not be a stressful ordeal for anyone.
I know we’ll all want to see the systems and processes in place to make sure passengers with access needs have the infrastructure and support that’s necessary.
We asked South Western Rail to comment on the incident Sophie has shown us above. A spokesperson said:
“We are incredibly sorry at the way Ms Christiansen was left feeling following her journey with us in August. Whilst we successfully assist tens of thousands of customers every year, even one failed journey is too many.
Un-booked passenger assistance is a challenging area for the railway industry as a whole and SWR is no different. We are working hard with industry colleagues and the RDG in investing in both technology and processes to try and stop this from happening.
We recently met with Ms Christiansen to apologise and to ensure we learn all the lessons possible to prevent it from happening again”
Do you think access to transport is improving at all? Do you have a story to share? If so, do get in touch in the comments below.