This experience played on my mind every time
30 August 2018
My name is Kathy and I work in the planning department of my local authority. I’m also a County Councilor at Suffolk County Council and the Chair of Trustees of Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People.
People who aren't disabled don't understand how difficult it can be to travel. I became affected by my disability eight or nine years ago. Before then I commuted to London to work and drove anywhere I couldn't take the train. I didn't need to use taxis because I could either walk to where I needed to go or if I needed to take a tube or train, I didn't find places inaccessible.
It became impossible
About eight years ago, I needed to start using a powered wheelchair. I could only walk short distances and that’s when my world became so much more difficult. I found many of the places I could access previously became impossible.
I still had to travel, but found that although I was able to use the assisted travel scheme, once I got on the train, I worried that there would be no one at the next station to get me off the train.
This feeling of panic got worse when it actually happened, and I was trapped on the train. Thankfully, another passenger was there to help and got a member of staff while another passenger held the door open.
This experience would play on my mind every time I had to travel. Generally other passengers are willing to help, but occasionally having to get people with suitcases to get their stuff out of the wheelchair space has led to an angry argument. Once again, there are no train personnel to help sort the problem.
I will just not go
Over the past five years, I have developed anxiety. This anxiety plays on the experiences I’ve had and it starts the night before even though I have booked assistance and bought my tickets. I then worry whether I can get a blue badge space at the train station. I worry that traffic will make me late and miss my train.
To manage this anxiety, I must leave the house much earlier to get to the station to beat others to the blue badge spaces. I don't like to travel alone and if the anxiety gets too much, I will just not go. These are the things that people who aren't disabled don't realise we have to face. I worry about wheelchair spaces on trains, inaccessible toilets on trains and whether there will be someone with a ramp to help me get off the train.
When I get overwhelmed with worry, I get what is called brain fog, this causes me cognitive difficulties and I don't understand directions and I worry I will get lost. When rail companies talk about getting rid of the conductor on the trains, I worry that there will be no one to help me if I get stuck during my journey.
I don't like to be dependent on other people
I don't like to be anxious, I don't like to be dependent on other people. I just want other people to be understanding and make it easier for me and other people like me to travel safely and freely.
If transport systems don't work for disabled people, less of us feel able to travel, our world begins to shrink. Being anxious about traveling has stopped me from participating inn some activities, socialising with friends and just having an independent life.
Public transport companies should involve disabled people to come up with workable solutions to the difficult situations disabled people face. I am hoping that this campaign can show the issues we have and build a conversation to make public transport work for everyone.
Find out if your local train stations are step-free and write to the rail company telling them why it’s important to make rail travel more accessible for disabled people.