Travelling with a disability in London and beyond…one woman’s journey

My name is Beth Richards, I’m 32, I have a learning disability, and my coordination isn’t good. I recently travelled to London from Bristol as part of my job as an involvement assistant with charity Brandon Trust. I heard Transport for London (TfL) is looking at introducing a new ‘please offer me a seat’ badge for people with disabilities and hidden health conditions, after the success of the ‘baby on board’ badge for pregnant women. I think I’d prefer to have a ‘please offer me a seat’ card than badge. Why? I don’t want to wear a badge, because I don’t want to stand out as different.

My experiences suggest not everyone understands the challenges I face using public transport. If they did, I think drivers would wait for me to sit down. I don’t think they wait because they are either impatient or running late.

Overall, I think a card is a good idea because you might feel awkward talking to the person you’d like to move or you might not be able to talk, or the person might think you’re pretending and just want a seat. If you show a card, it’s got the TfL logo and looks official.

I went to Earlsfield in London with support for a football fun day that Brandon member’s board in London organised.  We travelled on the train and tube. The tube maps were complicated to understand and if I didn’t have help I wouldn’t have known where to go or what to do.  London tube maps need to be more accessible.  Travelling on public transport can be scary. I think a big issue that needs changing for disabled travellers is our bus passes are not valid until 9am (except for weekends). It’s frustrating that we need to wait till 9am as some people need to travel before that time.

It’s a really good idea to have badges or cards so more disabled people can travel and not be scared or nervous about travelling. I’m sure a card would help other people, it would definitely help me.

I already use a bus pass that says: ‘please wait for me to sit down, in case I fall’, but often the drivers just drive off straight away anyway.  It makes me feel sad for other disabled passengers.

If I know where I’m going, I like travelling on buses and trains on my own, then someone meets me at the other end.  As I don’t have a car, my helper drives me to places if it’s a long way or comes with me.  I travel with my drama group to different areas by train.  I either walk or go by bus to other places.

I’ve been to London lots of times for work and with my drama group. I’ve been to Crystal Palace for a triathlon, and seen shows in the West End with my family and friends.  I normally get around by taxi and tube. I can find it difficult on the tube because there’s not many seats and it’s squashed. I need to hold on to something or preferably sit down. People don’t always offer me a seat.  I normally try to avoid taxis because they’re too expensive and sometimes the drivers don’t know where they’re going and ask me!  I don’t like that and I feel awkward.

My role at Brandon is to hear what the people we support with learning disabilities want, to make easy read information and video news. I go out and about to different places to see the people we support.  I can travel to work on my own by bus because I know how to do it and it’s a regular thing, but I don’t think people take disabled travellers seriously.

A colleague, who uses a walking frame, tells me: “Sometimes there are no steps to get in taxis.”  My partially blind friend said: “Some bus drivers don’t remember to stop at the bus stop I request. I think all buses should announce the bus stop names and make sure the automatic announcement is clear, loud, and works when the bus is coming. It would also be helpful if the bus says the number when it arrives.”

The same friend explained there should be more disability awareness. Gaps can be too wide on train platforms and all taxi companies should be aware that guide dogs are free to travel, so a taxi office should send out a driver that doesn’t mind dogs travelling and is not going to moan about them.

I hope by highlighting this it will raise awareness about the issues and improve things for more disabled passengers in the future.

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