A friend of mine has tweeted tonight about not being allowed to get on a Virgin train because she hasn’t booked in advance. Why did she need to book in advance for something most of us take for granted? She and the friend she was travelling with were in their wheelchairs and going two stops up the line. There were even disabled spaces vacant. So let me get this straight, all people in wheelchairs need to book 24 hours in advance before using public transport that others can pretty much get a ticket for 5 minutes in advance. They need to know exactly when they plan to travel and how. Even people in wheelchairs need to change travel plans last minute.
I tweeted Virgin and asked them about this, the answer I got:
“You have to book in advance for a wheelchair space, however if you go to the station they will be able to assist you ^RS”
This is not cool. Period. Personally I travel most trips over an hour with a walking stick because of my knees. The pain gets too much and I just can’t deal with the constantly having my knees bent for that long. But here’s the difference, they would have let me on the train. My friend and her friend however, were refused service.
The difference between the way countries treat those who are not able bodied is astounding. Over the past few years, I’ve made several trips to the US to visit my other half. Every time I’ve had wheelchair assistance at the airports because after long haul flights the idea of attempting to walk from one end of a large airport to the other is laughable. People, even passers by who don’t work for the airports, automatically move to let anyone in a wheelchair or with a walking stick past.
Staff on the coach service I usually use to get me to and from the airport assist me in and out of the coach when I am in the States. They make sure to take my luggage and load it for me and get it off for me and make sure I can manoeuvre it on my own.
At Dragon*Con, which we’ve been to for the past two years and which is held in Atlanta, the convention staff go out of their way to ensure disability needs are met and that anyone with a differing ability is treated as a human being. Admittedly, most of the time, the UK cons I attend are the same but with one difference. At the UK cons I have to warn them in advance I’m coming. At Dragon*Con I just have to go to the disability services on arrival and they put a sticker on my card that states what it is I require to ensure I’m comfortable.
When using my stick in the UK, I’m subjected to stares from people who think it’s odd that at my age I’m using one, I get people laughing and taunting. In the States, this doesn’t happen. You get the occasional idiot who ignores the walking stick as they barge past, but as a whole, my experiences are generally good. People within the customer service industry in America seriously go out of their way to help people, and whilst some buildings could definitely be more accessible, there’s an attitude of help rather than hindrance.
As people who rely on public transport or the kindness of friends and family to get from a to b, we shouldn’t be told that we can’t travel, we shouldn’t be pushed aside in favour of able bodied people. A wheelchair does not mean we aren’t capable of living a good and fulfilled life, but, according to the UK transport system and the attitudes of the British public, we do nothing but scrounge of the government. Tell that to me once you’ve found out I work a 40 hour week, and tell that to my friend in her wheelchair, who would love nothing more than the ability to work a full time job and who has a mind as sharp, if not sharper than most, but who is, in effect limited to what she can do because of the limitations of her body.
Disabled is a word that says in the minds of many, unable, scrounger, living off benefits. To those people, I say heaven forbid you have an accident that means you can’t work any longer. You too would be living off the government, and what would you say then? Would you be as quick to judge the rest of us? Travel and dignity are rights for everyone, not privileges, and it seems that Virgin Trains have forgotten this fact.