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My Christmas Wish for an Accessible Railway Network

Dear Santa,

My name is Daniel Williams, Founder of Visualise Training and Consultancy, my Christmas wish is to make the UK railway inclusive for all.

We are here 2017, in the era of electrification and train design, but have we come very far as regards to rail travel for passengers with disabilities?  If you are a person living with disabilities it must be so frustrating that you cannot just turn up at the station, get on a train and travel wherever you want to go to.  So, you need assistance, outside of London, you have to book this 24 hours in advance! How many of us, with such busy lives live 24 hours in advance? This must be so frustrating and very inconvenient.  You arrive at the station, and the staff can sometimes be delightful and very helpful, however others can appear all flustered, some staff refusing to assist passengers with assistance dogs due to a fear of them, others not knowing how to guide passengers with a visual impairment or not very confident when communicating with people with disabilities.  They are not always trained adequately to understand the needs of passengers with disabilities and how to support them in the best way.

Solution:  Staff to be empowered with interactive face to face disability awareness training, giving them the confidence to become disability confident.

Boarding the train with a wheelchair, waiting on the platform whilst other passengers board the train can be worrisome, will assistance turn up quickly enough? Waiting patiently your assistance arrives, which is fine, the ramps are deployed and on you go, sometimes the assistance disappears at the door, and you are left at that stage to guide your own wheelchair to the designated priority seating area, this can be an obstacle course just in itself, negating narrow corridors, people, suitcases etc. constantly apologising for asking people to move out of your way.

Solution:  The trains should be designed in such a way that the ramp is built-in to the train and automatically deployed at the station with flexibility to adjust to all types of train station platforms?

It would be so much more helpful, and far less embarrassing for the guard to complete their customer service by assisting the person in a wheelchair to the priority seating area.

When you’re walking, after boarding the train, you approach the priority seats with trepidation, nine times out of ten someone is sat in them, maybe they require the priority seats, or maybe they just did not realise they were sat in seats allocated for people with disabilities?  The signage is not always clear, small signs with a wheelchair images does not portray the vast array of people living with disabilities, and that results in people ignoring others who wish to access the priority seats. The priority seats (depending on what train you’re on) are very attractive to all passengers, there are plug sockets, right next to the toilet and plenty of leg room where people quite happily sit in them. The next dilemma is ‘do they actually require these seats’ we all know there are lots of people who have hidden disabilities, so who are we to assume they do not require priority seating.  Some people will completely ignore you, pretend your not there, others will become quite hostile, and mutter to themselves before getting up, albeit reluctantly, and occasionally you will meet the really nice passengers who will offer their seats without hesitation, and a smile to cheer up your day.   On any one particular day you may have a problem and seek out the guard to ask if they would intervene, but they are sometimes reluctant to ask a passenger to relocate! Surely there must be a solution to this problem?

So how could we solve this:  It would be far more helpful to highlight the priority seat fabric with a high colour contrast which differs from the rest of the seating?  This would enable not only passengers to easily identify priority seating, but also help those with a visual impairment to locate these seats with ease.  Rather than use the small signs depicting a wheelchair, why not make an A4 sign with images of a variety of disabilities to inform passengers and raise awareness.

If you are lucky to obtain a priority seat and its time to settle down and get comfortable your in for a bit of a shock, especially if you have secured a pull-down seat! It is like sitting on a plank of wood, no padding for the derrière and certainly not designed for comfort or good posture, if you didn’t have back problems before sitting down, you can be assured after a two-hour train journey you’re going to get up with one!  Are there  any consultation with people with disabilities when designing the rolling stock?

If you are very lucky you have secured a comfortable seat with a table, you may wish to work on your laptop, however the table is located far away from the seat, once again your sat on a comfortable seat but have to lean so far forward it not only makes it difficult to work, it results in back ache once again.

Solution:  The table is on a flexible arm, this would allow the table to be moved closer to the passenger sitting on the seat.

Pull-down seats require more padding to enhance a more comfortable journey.

Provisions in first class for wheelchair users, are hit and miss, in some trains there are none, and in others your wheelchair is positioned facing the back of a seat, should you have company with you the only way your able to have a conversation with your companion is your companion has to turn around to talk to you in between the seats, not a lot of thought has gone into that provision, I assume your supposed to sit there in silence for the entire journey!

Solution: Remove a seat where the tables are located, and a wheelchair user will be able to locate the space, sit comfortably and feel included.

First class do at least have buffet trolley service, which leaps on to the next thought what happens when you are hungry or thirsty in standard class?

When the train has Buffet only provisions and no trolley service, how on earth does the person with disabilities access the buffet car.  The priority seats are so far away it is virtually impossible for a person with mobility difficulties to access this.

There are a number of solutions to this, priority seating could be positioned next to the buffet, all trains could have a trolley service in standard class.  The train guard could ask a passenger with disabilities if they require buffet assistance.

Now we are on to the delicate subject of the accessing accessible toilets, the accessible toilets are generally located next to the priority seating on most trains, however on others they are no where near or not available at all.  Should the accessible toilet be out of order what do you do? How do you use the loo?  It’s a bit of a shitty situation really!

If a passenger who has a visual impairment has had assistance to board the train and the guard seats them in the centre of the carriage and not in the priority seating it can be difficult for that passenger to locate the toilet and return to their seat.

Solution:  The guard to ask the passenger where they would like to be seated and also explain the location of the toilet.

The assistance dogs, where on earth are they expected to go? Generally, they lie in the aisle, where they are stepped over or worse stepped on, kicked and pulled about to make way for people to get on or off the train, they desperately try to squeeze into the smallest space giving them no room to move after a hard day at work. Some passengers do not appreciate an assistance dog squeezing under their seat or brushing against their clothing which in turn causes discomfort for all parties.

The solution to this would-be people with assistance dogs are provided with seats with additional leg room to allow the dog to lay and move comfortably and out of the way of other passengers, and are not expected by train staff to squeeze in seats that do not have the extra leg room.

Announcements of stations can be very hit and miss, some guards will announce stations using the tannoy system, these are not always clear where others may be snoozing on the job! and make no announcements at all! If you have a visual impairment this can prove to be challenging and disorientating.  On some of the modern trains there are automatic announcements as well as a visual display announcement screen, however, some of these screens display the wrong stops, for someone relying on their sight rather than their hearing this can pose many problems.

One solution could be the train driver beep his horn to wake the snoozing guard! But on a more serious note all announcements are clear and correct, and each station is announced a few minutes prior to arrival giving the passenger with disabilities ample time to alight.

Its time to disembark the train, should you require assistance, your now sat waiting anxiously for the guard or assistance to appear and assist you off the train. You may have a meeting to go to and getting more and more agitated and conscious that the train may leave the station and you’ve been forgotten. Along comes the guard sometimes appearing quite frustrated as they too have a schedule to keep to.

Solution: The assistance is there waiting as soon as the train arrives at the station.

Inclusion makes sense and works for everybody, for example if you have clear, concise tannoy announcements this enables everyone to know where they are, whether you have a disability, you’re a tourist or a commuter.  A built-in ramp would help everybody, wheelchair users, people with walking aids, carrying luggage, parents with prams and cyclists.  Inclusion really makes sense for all/

For more information on our disability awareness training:

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