Why do these issues still happen in this day and age
Gold medal winning Para-equestrian Sophie Christiansen writes about her experiences of accessibility on British trains
Realising that the Paralympics was bigger than ever before hit me when I got back to Heathrow. We were swarmed by supporters and TV cameras, who had really connected with the last 2 weeks of disability sport. For me the real legacy of the London Paralympics was going to be Rio, and I felt it lived up to that.
I loved the Channel 4 advert "Yes I Can". They had really listened to feedback on creating more disabled role models outside sport; yes I can do anything that I want to. But I felt that it should have come with an asterisk: yes I can (if given the right support to do so).
The week following the Games I went back to work as an analyst at Goldman Sachs in central London. When I first graduated from university I thought that I would never be able to commute into the City, but I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and now it's just normal. But it doesn't come without barriers, some of which could be easily removed.
Train companies want disabled travelers to book assistance 24 hours in advance. This normally involves sitting on hold for at least 10 minutes. The companies are getting better with not requiring 24 hours notice, but I normally still get told that I should - even when I don't know what time I'm finishing work, or when my booked train got cancelled and I'm calling to make sure I have help on the next one! And even when I book, I still take a gamble on whether assistance will come or not. In my experience I would say the probability of success is 90%. Either the guard doesn't know you booked so you have to wave them down to let you on or no one comes with a ramp to let you off the other end. How's that for a service for vulnerable people? There would be an uproar if able bodied people had to perform some obstacles of climbing an assault course wall to get off the train 1/10 times!
But what I don't understand is why these issues still happen in this day and age? Surely a simple app would solve this. You could quickly book assistance on the train you're getting with notes on how to help you, even at short notice, but with a time limit on different stations. Then the staff would receive this information and send back to the passenger's app that help will be available. This would make the passenger far more confident in traveling and help the train company analyse any communication breakdown. It makes business sense! Far more disabled people and their family and friends would travel by train. Not only that, but it would remove some of the barriers for people to get employment. How can you work if you can't get there?
In fact, my employer at Goldman Sachs has offered to give time to develop this system for the train companies. All I would like to know is why isn't this happening? Channel 4 showed that disability is lucrative as a business model. So why don't other companies realise that they're missing out on profit? Disabled people have a combined spending power of £80bn in the UK. Together with their friends and family, surely it makes sense to include disabled people in their business plans?
I also feel that, since leaving businesses to figure this out for themselves clearly isn't working, why doesn't the government step in? Fine businesses for not making "reasonable adjustments" such as an app or a ramp, but make the penalty relative to the company size / impact. Then use the extra money to make public places more accessible.
I have had a conversation with the South West Trains customer service team about an app and they did agree with me that it would help both sides. They are going to pass the idea onto the tech team. I really hope that they put this at high priority - I don't see why this can't be made public in 2017. So why do I feel pessimistic that I will still be tweeting about it in 5 years time?