My Passenger Assistance Experience

Hello,

I hope you are all well.

This is probably a rather long rant but I wanted to tell you about a recent experience that I had as I think it needs to be discussed. I’m hoping that it portrays the fact that not everything goes to plan, even when provisions are put in place and that there are flaws in the services for disabled people.

Earlier this week, I attended Sight Village. For those of you that don’t know what Sight Village is, it is an exhibition for blind and visually impaired people to attend where they can see the latest assistive technology and services among other things. I’ve done a lot of traveling with friends and family on buses, trains, planes and in the car and been on a plane by myself but something that I had never done was go on a train on my own using assistance. I’ve wanted to attend Sight Village for a while now but never had the time to go but this year I decided that I would go. My dad said that he wanted to come with me, so we decided that that would be a great opportunity for me to try out passenger assistance. We planned everything in advance: booked the train tickets and assistance, hotel and registered that we were attending Sight Village. We thought that if we did then everything would run smoothly, however we were wrong.

When arriving at my local station on Tuesday, we went to the passenger assist desk where the person told us to go to the required platform for our train. When getting to the platform, we suddenly thought that the person didn’t give us the option of an assistant guiding me to the platform, instead just assumed my parents would guide me. We let this go and just dismissed it as a minor issue. My train was finally called and it was now announced that there would be a change of platform. There were a few members of staff around but none of them made themselves known to me as my assistant so to avoid running for the train me and my parents started walking to the other platform. When we started walking, a member of staff came over to us and told us that he was my assistant. I did think that he should have done this a lot sooner and the provisions were slightly unorganised but we went with it.

When we got on the train, the assistant showed me to my seat and told me that he’d ring ahead to Birmingham to tell them that I was on the train and for them to come on and get my suitcase. I was happy with this and was glad that he was doing so.

We ended up being 66 minutes late arriving into Birmingham due to many problems, we were glad when we finally arrived. However, this is where the major problem occurred.

As the train pulled into the station me and my dad were getting ready to leave and we gathered our stuff ready to leave the train when the assistant came. However, this was the issue…the assistant didn’t turn up. We waited for a couple of minutes until we were rather certain that no one was coming. My dad quickly grabbed our suitcase and other things and we had to rush off the train.

When we were off the train, we stood there being 100 % certain that no one was going to come. The ticket woman got off the train and we walked over to her and told her what had happened. It was safe to say that she wasn’t bothered and couldn’t have cared less whether the assistant had or hadn’t have turned up. She wasn’t exactly going to help us resolve the issue either. One thing really annoyed me is that she spoke to my dad about me whilst I was stood there, rather than speaking directly to myself or both of us. Even when I spoke, she still did this. For disabled people, this is literally a pet hate! She walked off, not helping resolve the issue and we were left there. A cleaner was on the platform, yes a cleaner and they had heard the conversation so showed us to the customer relations office where we could complain about what had happened. The guy in customer relations looked up my name and did confirm that I was booked for assistance which we knew anyway and told us he’d get his manager to ring us the next day. It wasn’t the ticket person we had the major problem with, the main issue here was the fact that the passenger assistance service had failed.

The following day arrived and the manager did not ring us. When me and my dad went back to the station we went back to the office and double checked the assistance for our train later and luckily the same guy from the night before was on the desk. We explained that the manager hadn’t phoned us and he was in fact there in the building. We spoke to the manager in person and he didn’t really do anything, other than apologise. When getting my assistance that evening things did go a lot better, and ran much smoother than the night before.

I had written my experience on Twitter and Facebook and spoke to my blind and visually impaired friends at Sight Village and the thing that concerned me most was that the majority of my blind and visually impaired friends had experienced exactly the same thing that I had where the assistant doesn’t turn up and you are basically left stranded. I was lucky because my dad was with me, but what if i’d have been on my own? What was I meant to do? I’d have more than likely panicked, was I meant to find my way off the train by myself and be stranded on the platform or sit on the train until it terminated at another place and be stranded there as well? I’d have got off the train as quickly as I could by myself, but I shouldn’t have to consider these sort of things. The provisions that are in place should work. I’m blind, I can’t see where the door is/the step down from the train to the platform and the only use I have is my long cane and although they are good as a mobility aid, they don’t have eyes. This was my first time of using passenger assistance and it was an utter shambles. From speaking to my friends, this happens way too often. There’s been so many articles lately of blind and visually impaired people being refused access to taxi’s, restaurants to name a few, how is the failing of passenger assistance on trains any different from these sort of refusals? The service is there for disabled people and it gives them the same access to transport as everyone else, however when it doesn’t work this prevents people like myself from having access to it and most of all being independent. Disabled people have rights, just like everyone else. Why should we have to worry if our assistance is actually going to turn up and come up with solutions for getting off trains by ourselves and relying on the generosity of the public to take us to where we need to be? I know services and systems have their downfalls and not everything can always run smoothly but from my experience of passenger assistance and those of my friends, this happens way too often.

Last year, I used the special assistance service to fly to Belgium to meet a friend and not once did this service fail. So why is passenger assistance on trains so different?

I’m going to be completely honest, this experience has doubted my trust in passenger assistance. Will I always be thinking ‘will the assistant turn up?’ or ‘what do I do if they don’t come to get me off the train?’ Disabled people shouldn’t have to think like this all the time, it’s not fair on us and it certainly does not make us equal to non-disabled people.

I know that I can’t change these services through a blog post but what I can do is raise awareness of the issues that we face and tell you my own personal experiences. I try to be a positive person but when something like this happens, I think people need to be aware of the situation.

I’m hoping that my future experiences of passenger assistance aren’t the same as this one and does not become a regular occurrence for me and others in my situation.

 

I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post and help me raise awareness of the flaws in these services and that having a disability doesn’t make everything all plain and simple.

If you would like to share your experiences, then feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Holly x

Advertisements

Things You Shouldn’t Say/do To a Blind/VI Person

Hello everyone and welcome back to Life Of a Blind girl.

I am really excited about today’s post, it is a collaboration with one of my best friends My Blurred World. She is an amazing person and her blog is fabulous too so make sure you head on over there! Some of you may remember our previous collab The VIP Daily living tag we really enjoyed doing that one and we both got a good response so thought we’d do another collaboration for you all!

As you can tell from the title, this post is ‘things you shouldn’t say/do to a blind/VI person’. This post is not to insult anyone, wE both want to raise awareness of blindness/visual impairment and disability on our blogs so we thought this was a good way of doing this. We’ve come up with 6 points each so make sure you go over to My Blurred World’s blog and read her post! You can read it here

Just a quick note: we are thinking of doing a series together on our blogs, where we can discuss all aspects of sight loss such as fashion and share our tips and tricks. Please let us know if you’d like us to do this!

 

Anyway, enjoy today’s post!

 

  1. Saying something is “over there”

This one really does bug me! We usually can’t see where something is or where you are pointing to so please be more specific. For example, “can you get the remote, it’s on the sofa” or “it’s to your left”. If you give us some indication and clear instructions as to where something is then chances are, we will be able to complete that task. For me, I only have light perception so this means I cannot see where you are pointing to or see where an object is.

2. Don’t Ask how we know where we’re going using a cane or guide dog

This has happened to me a few times. A guide dog isn’t a sat nav and neither is a cane. It sounds very patronizing but canes don’t have eyes and guide dogs do not do all the work for us. When travelling independently, we have to learn routes and basically remember them and make a mental map. Learning routes can be very time consuming and can often be difficult. If obstacles are in the way, then this can often confuse us so we have to think of a way around this. A cane or a guide dog doesn’t do all the work for us. We are also able to travel independently on buses, trains and planes.

3. Please don’t ask us if we know what food we’re eating

This is rather weird and annoying. Just because we can’t see, we have 4 very good other senses. If we’re in a restaurant then we’ll have ordered it ourselves or if we cooked it, then that’s pretty obvious. There are many ways of being able to identify labels on food packaging such as apps on our phones. We are not completely incompetent and are very able to know what food we are cooking or ordering in a restaurant. Just because we can’t see does not mean that we are unable to recognise things such as food. I remember I was once asked by someone at school how I know how to eat. My sight loss does not affect how I eat my food.

4. Saying you feel sorry for us because we’re blind or visually impaired

We know you’re just trying to empathise with us but it really doesn’t help. We don’t want sympathy. We can have normal lives just like everyone else, we can take part in everyday activities. For example, I’m at university and have a social life, just like sighted people. My disability does not stop me from doing these things and I believe that it should never stop anyone. Many people have the idea that we live lonely lives, sit at home doing nothing because we are unable to do so. This is not true, we can go out to work, school/college/university just like everyone else. We don’t want sympathy because being blind or visually impaired is all that we’ve known or we’ve adapted to this way of life. There’s no point feeling sorry for ourselves because that would get us nowhere and we want you to think this way as well. I’ve had some experiences where I’ve been out and completing simple tasks such as putting my card in the chip and pin machine and the person behind the counter has gone “aw bless”, why? It’s a simple task for me to do and I do this exactly the same way as you.

5. Assuming that we can’t speak for ourselves and changing your vocabulary when talking to us

There’s really nothing worse than when someone speaks to the person you’re with rather than you, you’re just stood there awkwardly like “hello, I do exist, I can speak for myself!” A lot of people speak to the person we are with rather than ourselves. Just because we have a disability, it does not mean that we cannot speak for ourselves. I don’t know whether people don’t actually know how to interact with blind or visually impaired people which stops them from talking directly to us, but it really is a pet hate of mine and makes you feel very uncomfortable. You don’t need to shout or talk to us like we’re a child, just speak normally. When you interact with us, you don’t need to change your vocabulary either. You can say “did you watch that programme last night” or “have you seen whatever?” We don’t change our everyday vocabulary just to fit with our disability so neither should you. Also, assuming the person that we’re with is our carer. Just because we’re blind we do not have a carer, granted many people with other disabilities as well as blindness or visual impairments have carers and that is absolutely fine but the majority of blind or visually impaired people do not have a carer. We’re usually out with a family member or a friend who is not our carer.

6. Assuming we always need help

Although it’s in your best interest to help us and we do appreciate it, we often don’t need it. We do like to be independent. We can cook for ourselves, choose an outfit, travel independently, apply makeup, work/study, the list is endless. Just like sighted people, we will ask if we need help with something. If we don’t try something ourselves and get everyone else to do things for us then we will never learn, grow as a person or be independent. For example, if we’re making a drink, please don’t come and take over because we are capable of doing this on our own.

 

I hope you enjoyed today’s post as much as I enjoyed writing it and collaborating with my amazing friend! Remember to check out My Blurred World’s post as well and please do let us know if you would like us to do a series, your thoughts would be really appreciated!

 

Holly x

Guest post for Through Scarlet’s Eyes

I was asked by the lovely Charlotte who runs Through Scarlet’s Eyes to write a blog post for the ‘young person’s voice’ month. Through Scarlet’s Eyes is a website/blog where Charlotte documents aspects of her daughter Scarlet’s life and it has now grown to be a support network for families with a child living with a visual impairment. The site features blogs, useful resources and so much more so make sure you check it out!

Thank you to Charlotte for asking me to write a blog post, I feel very honoured.

In this post I discuss aspects of my life so far and also give an insight as to how my parents have helped me live with my disability and in life in general. You can view my post here.

Enjoy!

My University Experience

Hello,

I hope you are all well.

After last week’s post on my mainstream school experience, this week I thought I’d follow on from that and do a post on my university experience. A lot of you requested this so I hope you enjoy! I love it when you suggest post ideas to me so keep them coming!

 

I applied for university towards the end of 2013, ready to get everything into place when I started in September 2014. The applying process went quite smoothly with a couple of minor hiccups along the way but nothing that couldn’t be sorted. Once I applied and everything was in place, it was a matter of just waiting for my A-level results, this was probably the worst waiting game of my life! To cut a long story short, I got better A-level results than I expected and got into my first choice university!

 

September finally came, I’d got all my DSA equipment, met my head of programme and done my orientation training round campus so that I at least had some idea of where I was going. Fresher’s week arrived and I was both excited and nervous, excited for a new chapter of my life to start but nervous because I had no idea of what to expect.

For anyone that doesn’t know what fresher’s week is, it’s a way of settling new students in by holding events and having introductory lectures. I didn’t really get involved with the events because they weren’t that accessible for me and also the fact that I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really want to go on my own. I was quite nervous for the few weeks ahead because I thought everyone on my course would have made friends already and I’d be on my own but that wasn’t the case.

 

Once fresher’s week was over, it was time to start proper lectures. For those of you that don’t know, I’m studying Children, young people and families at York St John university.

The first lecture I had, the lecturer told me that he had no idea that I was going to be in his lectures and that he didn’t know he had a blind student. This wasn’t true at all, my head of programme had reassured me that all the lecturers did know that I was going to be there and what they had to do. So as a consequence of him apparently not knowing, I hadn’t been sent any materials for the lecture so my note taker had to read everything out to me. This made me feel like I was back in school, not at university at all. What a great start! Luckily this all got sorted and this didn’t happen again. This was an issue that has not repeated itself and I hope it doesn’t in the future.

 

My university experience has overall been a positive one so far. I’m starting my final year in September and I hope things stay that way. In terms of academic stuff, the support is great, I’m given things in an accessible format and usually in advance. If I do encounter any problems then they are usually sorted rather quickly. There are sometimes minor issues like a lecturer thinks my screen-reader is magic and will read images when in fact it won’t and it’s their job to describe them. There have also been quite a few times where lecturers have forgotten to send me materials in advance which can cause problems but I guess it’s a matter of remembering and getting into a routine.

One of the things that I didn’t really consider when I started university was how hard it would be for me to access books. I knew there were ways around this such as electronic formats but I didn’t anticipate the challenges that would come with these. For a while, I had huge problems in accessing electronic formats of books. The system that my university have is I request a book, they scan it, put it into a pdf and then send it to me. When they first started doing this, my screen-reader refused to read the PDF’s and no one could figure out why this was happening. I eventually got it sorted and I could access the PDF’s. However, one problem of this is that it is very time consuming and when you have three 5000 word essays it is very hard to read books for all of them and write the assignments, especially with a screen-reader. I’m still very much in the learning process of this and trying to work out what method works best for me. But we don’t learn if we don’t try!

 

The support that I receive is note taking support and library support. The note taking support is great. It is very helpful in lectures because my note taker writes down the important bits from the powerpoint that the lecture uses. However, there was one instance where the note taker I had wrote my notes on paper rather than on a laptop so had to type them out after the lecture..don’t ask me why, I have no idea either. The only thing I don’t like about note taking support is that sometimes I don’t feel as independent as everyone else because I’ve got a note taker but everything has its pros and cons I guess.

 

The social side of uni is so important. As you will have read in my Mainstream education post I didn’t have the best experiences of friendship groups and especially in sixth form I felt very isolated which had a huge impact on my confidence and me as a person. I’m very glad to say that university has been the complete opposite of this. I’ve got an amazing group of friends that understand my disability but more so, look beyond it. I don’t feel isolated because of it, there’s people from all walks of life at university. It’s surprising how many people there have some sort of disability. For example, I’ve heard there’s more visually impaired people at my university but I don’t actually know them. When people get to university, they start to act more grown up and don’t think “it’s not cool to hang around with a blind girl”. I think they start to look towards the future and learn to accept people no matter what. Being at university has definitely helped me become more comfortable with my disability. A few years ago I refused to pick up a cane but now I will happily do so. I’ll leave the cane story for another post! I believe that university has really taught me that having a disability is really okay and there are people out that will accept it, as long as you love yourself.

 

As you can gather, my university experience has been for the most part, positive. There’s been slight issues but nothing near as bad as when I was in mainstream education. I’m probably the happiest that I’ve ever been and that’s all down to the people that I have in my life. Having people around that love you for who you are is so so important and I’ve definitely realised that over the last couple of years. No matter if you’re in work or education, personally I think there will always be some issues because being disabled isn’t the norm and often people don’t know what to do. But if you help to resolve the issues that you face, then both you and others will learn from this and help other disabled people in the future.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post, if you have any questions please comment below or contact me.

 

Hol x