Accessible Train Travel - it'd be easier than you think!

Wow! I did not know where time is gone recently! Firstly, I am not typing this blog post… I am dictating it to my laptop! This feature may be useful for some of you… It is the Apple Mac built in application and at a tap on a button, it listens to me and types out what I am speaking. Don't get me wrong, it is making plenty of mistakes, but it is enabling me to save time in the long run. It’s also giving me a good giggle with some of the things it's thinking I am saying!

However, Apple may be onto a really revolutionary tool here as it could be a game changer for people with disabilities who have no hand function, yet they have speech and therefore do not want to use eye gaze technology. With a bit of development I think Apple could really be onto a revolutionary product for disabled people. I hope if they read this, they give me a cut of the earnings, haha!

Last week, I was interviewed by BBC radio 1 about travelling with a disability. I love travelling and I love going new places. However, because of the nature of my disability I always have to have someone with me. Although when I really break this down, this isn’t because of my disability. It is because travelling and transport is so inaccessible. For example, I have to get a train with somebody… when I actually break this down, this is because trains do not have level access rather than it being ‘I have CP and therefore I literally can’t be on a train alone’. I know I can book assistance, but this has to be done at least 24 hours in advance and it can be all very ‘airy fairy’ - if you don't fit the stereotypical ‘disabled person in a wheelchair’ rightly or wrongly it can be hard to find the person who’s meant to be assisting. Sometimes this just is not possible to know 24 hours in advance and I really struggle with the fact that we are now in 2019 and many disabled people can't board a train without 24 hours notice. With the technology we have today, I cannot believe that there is not an app available where we can stand (or sit!) on a platform and request assistance to get on a train. This would absolutely transform my life!

To me it's simple - let’s use me travelling from Sheffield to Leeds by train for example. Before I arrive at Sheffield station, I could check on my app how long I need to be there before my train to request help - this could differ from station to station depending on how big or small the station is, number of platforms etc. Let's say Sheffield station stated 15 minutes, so I organise myself to be on the correct platform for the train I want to catch to Leeds at least 15 minutes before. Once I am on the platform, I go onto my app and request assistance by stating which platform I am on and which train I am getting, with the option of also adding my coach and seat number, e.g. Platform 8, 12:04 to Glasgow, Coach A, Seat 94. I will also enter where I am going to/disembarking, e.g. Leeds. Both Sheffield station and Leeds station will then get a notification with all of the information on for my journey and will dispatch assistance at the necessary point to the necessary platform. Furthermore, the app will have my profile, which I will have put together and saved to my app, which can be seen by the individual who is dispatched to assist me - a person’s profile can consist of their disability, whether or not they need a ramp, mobility equipment, guide dogs etc. and even a photo so that the person who is sent to assist knows what the passenger looks like. There could even be an option for additional information, for example ‘non-verbal’ or ‘I lip read’.

To me, it is not rocket science! And something as simple as that would give disabled people so much more freedom, confidence and autonomy. I for one would be able to travel freely and I would be able to see my friends who live in various locations a lot more. Also, it is so financially beneficial to train companies to sort this out… the purple pound and all of that! I do not understand why train companies do not aspire to be the most accessible travel network … they could do this easily and financially be better off as a result.

It is a bizarre world where I can get flight to the other side of the world without too much difficulty by myself, yet I cannot get a 20 minute train to my nearest city. I appreciate that aeroplane travel can be extremely challenging for some people with disabilities, I am very lucky that I am ambulant and I can get myself onto a plane and into a seat with a little assistance. I am also aware of some of the horror stories of disabled people flying and the lack of support from airport and airline staff. However, I am very lucky I've only ever had really positive experiences with flying, so much so I am now confident to navigate flying by myself. The only negative experiences I have had with flying to date is with my mobility equipment going into the hold - ground staff do not seem to care about damaging expensive mobility equipment! When I fly with my RaceRunner, no amount of fragile tape seems to make any difference - I never quite know until I get to my destination and unwrap my RaceRunner whether or not I will be able to race on it!

I would love to talk to train companies about how they can make travel much more accessible to disabled people. It is so easy, yet it appears so difficult because nothing is being done! Maybe this blog post will persuade the powers that be to reach out and start thinking about accessibility and how it can be achieved in such simple ways.

I am still talking to my laptop and I probably look like I am talking to myself! Being able to talk to my laptop and for it to type for me has made this blog post a lot quicker to do! Whilst I am talking away, don't forget tickets are still available for this year’s CP Teens UK Ball on Saturday the 2nd of November 2019. All the details on this website and on the Facebook page. Tickets of £50 or £25 for ‘CP Teens’ (up to the age of 25 with a physical disability).

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Website by Ellie Simpson.

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