The Department of Transport has launched a Consultation on its Accessibility Action Plan. Personally, I don’t think it goes far enough, but it is not my field, so I would encourage those in relevant support organisations to get involved.
The Plan set out in the document does seek to tackle some longstanding issues, such as:
- Consistency in signage across transport operators
- Penetration of audible and visual announcements on transport services
- Consistency of wheelchair accessibility in bus fleets
- Consistency in tactile paving use
- Adaptation of stations for accessibility
and it recognises the need to ensure that accessibility for those with autism and mental health conditions, for instance, are considered as well as those with mobility impairment.
However, my personal view is that the UK remains well behind at least some other countries. I travel regularly on public transport and I have only ever seen one wheelchair user on a regular service bus. This person was accompanied and using a non-motorised chair.
But I recall using about a dozen short city journeys by bus on a visit to the United States. These were in New York and Salt Lake City. On a majority of these there was an unaccompanied electric wheelchair or mobility scooter user on board for at least part of the trip, on one journey there were two. We were able to see how easily they both accessed and demounted from the vehicles. It is perfectly possible if the vehicles are appropriately equipped and this obviously makes a huge difference to the independence of lives.
I am unconvinced from reading the Action Plan that it goes far enough in this respect.
Disabled travellers are becoming more commonplace on trains and I see a train arriving at stations met by a staff member with a boarding ramp reasonably often. However, this depends on a system of pre-planning and notifications, and is subject to constant threat of disruption. If such a journey is blighted by a missed connection between trains then the missed train is met and the subsequent train may not be.
Section 7 of the report considers the desire to facilitate ‘Spontaneous’ travel without Passenger Assist, rather than pre-planned, but its actions are research and exploration rather than making anything happen.
I know that if a disability condition awaits me in the future, I will want to live as full a life as possible with as much freedom as possible, restricted only by limitations imposed by a condition not by ‘the system’. Accordingly, I would want that for those with disabilities today.
I ask whether, as a society, we have done enough, quickly enough, given what has been achieved elsewhere.