tenpastmidnight blog

Making hay while the sun shines

Anti-discrimination posters on train stations

On my train journey today I noticed there are some new posters around on the train stations: a campaign against discrimination against people with disabilities. Featuring slogans like "I'm disabled, not from another planet." with a picture of a person using a wheelchair with an 'greys' style alien-head pasted over their real head.

I agree wholeheartedly with the campaign, I just find it quite ironic to see it on train stations. Travelling with my sister, who used a wheelchair most of the time, across the rail service in Britain tended to be an experience somewhere between an Ealing comedy and the fifth circle of Hell. The most memorable trips I did with her were the ones to London. When I went to look around Goldsmiths College when applying to universities we got off the train only to find that the side we were on had no non-step way of getting off the platform. We had to catch the next train to the next station along the line, change over to the other side and catch another train back to the original station, but on the side where we could get out.

The most memorable trip was coming back from central London on a cold, grim day in the Guards Van. This is an area for freight boxes and bikes to be stored during a trip. Wheelchairs couldn't get in to the main carriage, so had to go in the Guards Van. Sam wasn't well enough to make the walk down to the main carriage, especially on the very bumpy rails we were going across. I didn't want to leave her alone in the Guards Van, but there were no seats, but it had been a very long day and I needed to sit down. In the end I spent the trip sitting on the cold, dirty floor on her spare seat cushion while the bumps jolted her wheelchair (about six stone in weight, plus her weight) around the barren van. At some point some cyclists bought their bikes in and were horrified that we were doing the whole trip in the van, but there wasn't really any other option.

And lets not forget the lovely rail services where you had to phone a day or more ahead to make sure the station you were going to had a ramp so you could get in or out of the train. More than one trip was made a lot harder because the destination station had 'lost' their ramp by the time you got there. And they wouldn't let the trains carry their own ramps, so they could ensure there was one with a wheelchair using passenger.

However, most of those experiences are from more than four years ago, the nightmare trip now about thirteen years ago. I noticed new ramps had turned up on Leamington Spa station a week ago - a standard folding one and new dual straight ramps. The new designs of trains mean there are no more guards vans, and spaces to drive on to the main carriage, and some of them have a particular space for a wheelchair. It doesn't take account of two people with wheelchairs travelling together, but it is indeed a start. It is only a start, mind you. I would guess that the attitudes of the guards on the trains and stations is as variable as it always was: some were absolutely fantastic, including chaps who helped me lift my sister and her motorised chair on to a train - about 20-odd stone of weight with her later chair, and others gits who deserved to lose their jobs when conveniently losing ramps because they didn't want the hassle of helping.

Even with the changes I have seen, the rail service has a lot to live up to if the posters are going to be anything other than a poor joke to the segment of people they are supposed to help.
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