Failings in Passenger Assistance

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

This post is part of mine and Elin’s #SeeingThroughSightLossSeries where we discuss everything relating to disability, visual impairment and also often our meet ups. Today’s post is going to be a bit of a mixed bag – I am going to discuss my own personal experiences and from this, I hope to raise awareness.

I try to be positive on my blog as I feel that it generally reflects the person I am, and I don’t sugar-coat anything that I write, therefore this post is no exception but I just want you to know that everything that I’m discussing is true and honest, not exaggerated, made up or fake. As I said, I try to be positive on my blog, but I do sometimes address the negative aspects of having a disability too and I think that’s important. Today I want to tell you about an experience that I have had recently, but one that’s reoccurred on several occasions and sadly, that’s one of the harsh realities of being blind or having a disability. What I’m talking about is passenger assistance on public transport, in this case, trains. For those of you that aren’t familiar with passenger assistance, it’s where a member of staff from a train station helps a disabled or elderly person IE people in wheelchairs, or those with a visual impairment like myself. For example, They can assist people on and off trains, take people to a meeting point to meet others, to a taxi or even a connecting train. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

That’s what I thought when I tried it for the first time. But this was soon the opposite – I was left on a train, had I not have been with my Dad who came with me whilst I was trying it for the first time, I’d have been left on a train to Southampton, over 100 miles away from my original destination. Scary thought, right? But this sort of thing happens too often. You can read about my first time trying passenger assistance here.

After that time, I thought that it would just be a mistake and wouldn’t happen to me again but that couldn’t have been further away from the truth, in the last 9 months the so called “passenger assistance” has failed me each time that I have required it.

I want to tell you about the most recent experience that I had. On Friday 28 April 2017, I was travelling to Manchester to meet my best friend Elin (My Blurred World) as we were going to see Shawn Mendes in concert and I was extremely excited! I pre-booked my hotel, train tickets and passenger assistance back in February so that it was all done, and I knew that I would hopefully get assistance. My Mum was travelling with me, as she was going out for a meal with Elin’s Mum whilst we were at the gig and as Manchester isn’t familiar to me and Elin, they were our eyes so to speak.

(photo of a train ticket)

You may be asking why I needed passenger assistance when my Mum was with me, I wanted to try it on this route as it’s one that I’ll hopefully be doing more often so wanted to try it whilst someone sighted was with me. So please do not tell me that I was abusing the system because I wasn’t, and I genuinely needed the experience for future trips.

I started my journey at York station where I went to the information desk, where I was met by an assistant a few minutes later. This part went well, the assistant helped me onto the train and assisted me in finding my seat; they did everything that they were supposed to do.

When I arrived at Manchester Victoria station, this is where the problems occurred. I was on an overcrowded train where people were stood up in the carriage, I appreciate that this was on the day of a rail strike so people were probably using alternative trains but as a blind person, it made it practically impossible for me to get through these people using my long cane. If my Mum hadn’t have been with me, it would have been extremely difficult for me to carry my luggage and navigate through an overcrowded carriage with my cane. We waited a couple of minutes to see whether a member of staff was going to come onto the train to assist me, as time quickly ticked by, we  soon realised that they hadn’t turned up yet again. We got off the train as it seemed that there was no assistant for me like I had pre-booked. Once we were off the train and stood on the platform, my Mum looked at a person who seemed to be a member of staff, and the lady came over and asked if I needed assistance, I explained that I had in fact pre-booked assistance as I was blind, for her to inform me that she only had two people on my train down for luggage assistance, rather than one with a severe visual impairment. I knew that the information she had told me was wrong as I knew that my passenger assistance details stated that I had a visual impairment and had the right instructions for the member of staff.

We went to the information centre at Manchester Victoria station to find out exactly what had happened. I knew that the assistance had been done right as I was there when the person booked it for me back in February. The man at the information point checked the system and told me that it was in fact all correct, and there had been clearly some mix up in communication. He said that they were short staffed but agreed with me in that this was no excuse. He told me to complain when I returned home the following day.

Despite all of this, I wanted to enjoy the Shawn Mendes concert and the time with my best friend so that’s exactly what we did! A post on the gig will be coming soon – this would have been too long if me and Elin would have just done one post each on the weekend overall!

 

On the Saturday, we left Manchester in the afternoon and me and my mum parted ways with Elin and her Mum and headed off to catch our trains.

Me and my Mum went to the information point again, in order for me to get my assistance. I informed the man at the information desk that I had pre-booked passenger assistance, the man told me that the system was down so would try to see if any assistants were available. Luckily there was, but had I been on my own, this could have been a real issue and so much worse.

When we arrived back at York station, there was no assistance there to come and help me off the train again. We waited for the train to pull out and there was no one there as my Mum and Dad observed this. A couple of minutes later, a woman walked onto the platform so we asked if she was my assistant, and she said yes, but she was waiting for me to “wave a stick or a dog in the air”. How can I wave a cane in the air when I don’t know where a person is, or if there’s anyone there waiting for me? Had I have been on my own, I’d have had to struggle to get off the train by myself along with my luggage, or even worse, ended up in Newcastle which is a long way from where I needed to be.

I wrote to the train company, First Transpenine Express who informed me that they couldn’t deal with this issue as they do not manage Manchester Victoria station so have passed it onto Northern Rail who would be in touch with me. And guess what? I haven’t heard from Northern Rail yet, despite trying to contact them several times myself.

So clearly, there’s a failing in the system somewhere.

I find it appalling that train companies and members of staff do not communicate, misread information, leave disabled passengers on trains and ignore complaints. Like I said, this is one of many incidents that I’ve had when using passenger assistance and it really isn’t fair.

Sadly, I’m not on my own when experiencing these issues, most or if not all of my blind or visually impaired friends have had the same experiences across the country. Make sure you check out Elin’s post as she gives you an account on her experience of passenger assistance and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

I’ve wrote this post to highlight some of the issues and struggles that people like myself face when wanting to do something simple like travelling independently on public transport. Just because we have a visual impairment, or other disability it should not be incredibly hard and cause endless frustrations for us. We claim to live in a (fairly) equal society but is this really the case when such problems arise and are a regular occurrence?

I know that here in the UK, we are extremely lucky to have services in place such as passenger assistance and I am extremely grateful for this service but it does not make it right when such systems fail.

I believe that disabled people should have the same rights to travel on trains independently like non-disabled people, but the reality of this is that I feel that this is not the case at all. This is becoming a regular occurrence for me and many others and I do not feel that this should be the case at all.

It is frustrating, and very exhausting for me and my parents to have to keep contacting train companies because of continuous failings, lack of communication or assistance.

I know that writing this blog post will not change the policies and procedures that are put in place, but I hope it highlights some of the issues that disabled people face.

I want to be like my sighted friends and family and travel independently but how can I trust such services when they keep letting me down?

I’m sorry if this was a bit of a rant but I really hope it has helped raise awareness.

I’d really appreciate it if you could share this post so that we can at least try to make a difference!

If you are a disabled person and have had similar experiences then feel free to leave them in the comments.

I’m sorry if this post has offended any of you – that was never my intention.

As always, thank you for reading, I’ll be back soon with another post!

Holly x

Far Away Friendship

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well. I’m so glad that I’m able to post again this month as I am really missing posting regularly for you all!

Today’s post is both a lifestyle and disability one which I thought might be quite nice.

You all should know Elin from the blog My Blurred World as we do our ‘seeing through sight loss series’ together, and it’s no surprise on our blogs that we’re best friends. This post is also part of the series.

You may remember that we met up back in August last year and wrote a post all about it which you can read here, well after 7 months we were finally reunited again last weekend! We live 150 miles away from each other, it’s not easy to meet up as often as we’d like. Adding to this, I’m a few months away from graduating from university, so the workload is piling up too.

Despite all of this, we manage to maintain a very very strong friendship and I think that’s something to be proud of. Today we wanted to tell you about our recent meet-up and how we manage to maintain a long distance friendship which I’m sure some of you can relate to.

So, let’s get into today’s post!

Ever since me and Elin met up in Manchester back in August last year, we’ve been wanting to meet up ever since. After one thing after another, we set too to plan exactly how we could meet up and spend a weekend together. After a lot of planning and research, we finally came up with a plan that we were going to spend a weekend in Manchester as it is a central location. We needed to find somewhere to stay and somewhere that would cater for two visually impaired guests. We contacted several hotel companies and Premier Inn told us that their staff were trained in disability awareness so we decided that was probably the best option for us. We researched a whole load of Premier Inn’s and found one that seemed nice in Salford Quays, neither of us had been before so it was something new for us both. We booked it, told them that we had a visual impairment and asked for any assistance we might need. They were extremely happy to accommodate, they gave us an accessible room on the ground floor which was close to reception, assisted us to and from breakfast and were there if we needed any help. This was a huge help as we didn’t have to worry about which room was ours as ours was the first room from reception. The staff guided us to and from breakfast and made sure that we got to our room safely, the service and assistance we received was excellent!

On the Friday evening, me and Elin met at the hotel and were both very kindly dropped off by our parents ( thank you so much to them). After we checked in at the hotel we all went for a meal before our parents went back home. Me and Elin spent the Friday night unpacking, catching up and listening to music which was nice and chilled.

On the Saturday, we went for breakfast mid-morning and spent some time in our room afterwards. Later in the day, we decided to go for a walk by the waterfront. We didn’t know the area at all, but our mums had kindly shown us the route out of the hotel when they were with us so we grabbed our canes and decided to have a wander. We successfully managed it, we didn’t bump into anything or fall in the river! Navigating an unfamiliar area when you can’t see is very tricky so we were quite proud of ourselves!

Once we got back to the hotel we ordered a takeaway from Dominos, the pizzas were gorgeous might I add! We did probably get a bit too excited tracking our delivery but oh well, who doesn’t?

The rest of the Saturday evening consisted of watching some TV, listening to music, and having a proper girly chat and a lot of laughs. It was so nice to chill out with my best friend, forget about uni work and all the stress that goes with it and completely be myself.

Sunday soon arrived, we went for breakfast mid-morning again and packed to go home. We were both quite sad as we only had a matter of hours left but we wanted to make the most of it so decided to go for a walk by the waterfront again and have some lunch. When our families arrived to pick us up we walked to a nearby shopping centre, had a coffee, and walked by the waterfront with them and got some photos taken. We both love to keep photos as we think they’re something lovely to keep and look back on.

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(photo of me and Elin)

It was hard to say goodbye to my best friend but we’re reunited in 6 weeks as we’re seeing Shawn Mendes together so that made the goodbyes easier.

I honestly had such an amazing weekend with Elin, I’m so lucky to call her my best friend. I am also extremely grateful to my Mum and Dad for taking me and picking me up, family is so precious.

We also wanted to tell you about how we maintain a long distance friendship. It can be extremely difficult as I live in Yorkshire and Elin lives in Wales and it’s quite a long journey, therefore we hadn’t seen each other for several months. Maintaining a long distance friendship is not easy but it’s possible so we wanted to tell you how we do it.

Text regularly

You don’t have to text all day every day but it’s important to keep the conversation going, ask them how they are and keep them updated on your life, telling them yourself rather than them finding out on social media adds more of a personal touch. Me and Elin are always texting each other to keep each other updated on things, we think that this really does help.

Chat over the phone

Sometimes texting isn’t always good enough, having a phone call gives you chance to have a proper catch up. Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone and speak to your best friend which can instantly lift your mood. It’s not the same as being with them face-to-face but it is so important to have verbal conversations as well.

Do something together

You’re probably wondering what I mean by this, but me and Elin have our blog series which we include a range of posts on sight loss, to tag posts, to memories like this so they are nice to look back on. It’s nice to go back and read them sometimes! We also have a collaborative Spotify playlist which consists of our favourite songs, this is something that we like to update and share our music taste with each other. We’re lucky in that we like the same artists/bands. Let me just tell you, it’s a very good playlist!

Plan meet-ups

It’s important to have something to look forward to. Me and Elin have been focusing on this meet up for a while now, we’re also seeing Shawn Mendes and Adele together this year and I can honestly say that’s getting me through these last few months of university! Being able to countdown to something together is so exciting! It also makes the distance more bearable when you’re having one of those rubbish days.

Keep them motivated and always be there for them

Distance is nothing when friendship means everything, so make sure that you’re always there for them. If they’re going through a hard time or need a bit of motivation, then help them along the way.

If it wasn’t for blogging then me and Elin wouldn’t know each other, and I am so grateful. We may live miles away from each other but it makes the friendship stronger.

You can read Elin’s post here.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post, thank you so much for reading!

Do you have a long distance friendship? Let us know how you maintain it in the comments.

I’ll hopefully be back soon with a new post for you all.

Holly x