When news of Paralympic athlete Anne Wafula Strike’s undignified train journey experience broke out and made headlines recently, it left many people shocked and appalled at her treatment, and rightly so. Although, and as disheartening as this may be, I can’t help but suspect that for many disabled people, Anne’s experience was very much a depiction of the realities we face day in, day out.
I can only imagine how much thought and consideration must have gone into Anne’s decision to share her experience with mainstream media and the nation, and I totally commend her courage in doing so. I’m sure that Anne’s decision was very much borne out of a need to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again and this is exactly the catalyst for change that we need. It seems to me that those in charge of providing public services have been allowed to rest on their laurels of meeting even the most basic requirements of disabled people for too long, and it’s totally unacceptable.
As a society, we’ve come an incredibly long way in understanding what it means to have a disability, but it is ironic that for all Anne has been able to achieve as a Paralympic athlete, there are still huge physical barriers, even ones as simple as being able to make use of public lavatory facilities when needed.
And it’s evident that as I suspected earlier, Anne isn’t alone in her experiences either. In a recent article penned for The Guardian, writer Chloe Timms explains how she’s an ‘organisational bore’ when it comes to having a day out as she’s simply unable to be spontaneous, not out of choice but out of circumstance she hastens to add. Fancy taking a train into town for the afternoon? Sorry, you’ll have to book your ticket in advance so that the right assistance can be planned for and expected. That’s provided you’re able to access the station in the first place, of course. And, as Chloe quite rightly explains, even if all these things are in your favour and you’ve booked, booking doesn’t always guarantee you help and you can ‘still end up stranded on an empty platform or carriage’.
I don’t often use trains, but on the handful of occasions that I have, I can’t say that I have been left feeling encouraged that rail operators are fully aware of how to deal with disabled commuters. Yes, there may be a ramp at hand and an accessible space in a train carriage, but (and I’m talking from experience here) when the ‘assistance’ that you’ve taken the time to pre-book turns up mere moments before your train is about to depart and you just about make it aboard in time, you can’t help but wonder whether there is any point in being so organised in the first place, for it often seems all the planning in the world won’t likely make a difference.
It might not seem like it from reading this blog, but I really don’t find it easy to complain and more to the point nor do I want to. Much like Anne though, I feel that it’s less of a case of wanting too and more of a case of needing too, for we can’t expect things to change if we don’t do anything to change them.
As Chloe Timms simply but effectively sums up her article: ‘Getting out into the world and having fun shouldn’t be a struggle of organisational hell – but until accessibility is redefined, this is the reality for many disabled people’ and I for one couldn’t agree more.