A £30 million boost to public transport – combined with continuous improvements in technology – means we’re one step closer to a fully accessible and inclusive network for disabled people.
Public transport already comes with an air of traditional British awkwardness. Eye contact with fellow train passengers is heavily discouraged, conversations with your taxi driver never extend beyond small talk and if you play hardcore dubstep too loud through your headphones you’ll be met with 22 death stares from commuters on the Circle Line.
Now imagine this experience as a disabled person. For many autistic people, the loud noises of the London Underground can be nothing more than overwhelming. For wheelchair users, some train stations come without step-free access. Then, for a deaf young person like me, all it takes is an announcement over a tannoy on a train and I start to feel lost and confused.
I turn to the commuter next to me.
“What did they say?” I ask.
Except I don’t.
For one thing, I’ve come to assume that the train coming to a halt and the garbling voice of the driver in an announcement means that the journey is most likely delayed. A quick look at Trainline on my phone confirms it, and saves me from breaking the eerie silence that returns once the driver has finished talking.
While technology has helped to improve accessibility on public transport for me and other disabled people, the inclusivity of a bus journey or taxi ride is significantly enhanced when tech combines with physical improvements – which is why I welcome the Department for Transport’s announcement this week that up to £300 million is to be invested in making transport networks in the UK more inclusive.
In their Inclusive Transport Strategy, the Government commits to legislation to ensure that “on-board audible and visible upcoming stop and route information is installed on local bus services across Great Britain” – a reassuring move indeed.
From a deaf person’s perspective, the strategy could also go further, and address tannoy systems on trains and taxis. Granted, the option of taking the front passenger seat in taxis is an option for me when I need to hear the driver, but there’s always been that expectation that you’ll struggle to open the back door, not sit at the front. The end result is having to try and make out the driver’s voice in amongst the hum of the traffic which seeps through the doors.
The strategy also talks about how 75% of rail journeys are now through stations with step-free access, but it could also commit to 100% within a certain timeframe. Similarly, the Government plans to launch a public awareness campaign in 2019 around positively interacting with disabled people “to ensure a supportive travelling experience”. This needs to start now.
Only last week did we hear of a disabled comedian who was “humiliated” for using a disabled space on a train for her mobility scooter when another passenger wanted to use it for a pram. It’s an ongoing issue around priority seats which also highlighted in a campaign by comedian Corry Shaw, who called for Transport to London (TfL) to introduce messages asking people to ‘look up’ and see if someone needs your seat.
As more funding is announced for disabled facilities on public transport, we also need to ensure that such support is not exploited and that non-disabled people are aware of its intended purpose just as much as disabled people.