Taken for granted
Public transport is something we all take for granted to a certain extent and, whether disabled or not, we all need methods of getting around. As a wheelchair user however, I have to look at what level of accessibility different modes of transport can offer. So what can I relate about my experiences?
"Just take the bus"
Probably the most easily identifiable method of public transport, my personal experience of public buses is somewhat mixed.
My hometown of Aberdeen is an interesting case. Like pretty much everywhere else in the UK they claim to have public transport that is accessible to people who have disabilities. Whilst technically true, in my experience this is not generally speaking the case. I find it largely boils down to the individual driver’s level of investment with service he/she is providing as to whether these buses are truly accessible
The majority of the wheelchair ramps on buses that I have seen are built into the bus but the driver will have to get out of their seat in order to deploy it. This is fine when the driver spots you and can take the initiative, but often in my experience I need to catch the attention of the driver and single myself out in order to get the desired results of the ramp materialising.
I try very hard to live my life without having to draw attention to my disability and the above experience can feel incredibly humiliating. Imagine that you are the one person in a crowd of people who needs to be treated differently and this should give you, the reader, an idea of what this feels like.
Make way for the buggy
This is another point that very much ties in with the previous one in terms of the humiliating nature of having to single yourself out. In my experience bus drivers will just let buggies and pushchairs occupy the spaces that are meant specifically for those with disabilities. Having to raise this as an issue when you get on the bus is never a comfortable experience. The fact remains that in the majority of cases buggies and pushchairs are put in the spaces not because the people that occupy them have disabilities but because it's more convenient for them. I spoke to one member of Blackwood’s board, Anne Walker, who recalls that as a person with disabilities she had once been refused onto public transport because of a child’s buggy. A deeply unpleasant experience I could very much empathise with this.
What about beyond our own shores? How do they do it abroad? My experience of Paris flagged up at least one key difference in terms of disabled access. The example that springs to mind is when my dad and I were using the bus system as our main mode of transport around the French capital. The wheelchair ramp on buses in Paris is hydraulic and means the driver just has to push a button to make it appear, cancelling out the humiliating need to draw attention to myself as was and continues to be the case in Aberdeen. My main thought after this trip was how much I wished public transport was this accessible in my home city thus not resulting in me having to spend £10 for a wheelchair taxi into the centre of Aberdeen (or more if I want to go further).
The main barrier to fully accessible public transport in the city of Aberdeen (at least in my experience) is less physical and more mental. The process of having to single yourself out as a person with disabilities in the first place is a huge minus point that negates other efforts. The eternal battle between wheelchairs and pushchairs/ buggies adds further complications. There has to be adaptations in place, but these should ideally be seamless and cancel out different levels ability as much as possible and particularly the dependence on other people. If an adaptation only works with input from a third party, then it proves there’s more work to be done.
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