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

Embracing The Cane

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

I’m sorry for the lack of posts at the moment but third year of university is the reason for that!

Just a quick note, today’s post is very long so grab a drink and a snack, sit down and enjoy!

I know that not all of you will be able to relate to this post but I know many of you like to hear my experiences of living with sight loss and this post is one of those where I discuss my experiences and also give some advice.

I hope you enjoy today’s post!

Embracing the cane is something that many blind and visually impaired people struggle with, others not so much. I was one of those that struggled with it for a few years; but now I’m completely comfortable using one. Looking back, I’m glad I did have that doubt, apprehension and anxiety when using one because it’s contributed to my thoughts and feelings when using a cane today. I can also empathise with others that don’t feel so comfortable using a cane.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m comfortable using a cane and I can openly discuss this topic. Today I want to tell you my cane story and how I learned to embrace it, seeing it as something positive rather than something negative. Sometimes we need to give ourselves a reminder that the glass is half full, not half empty.

 

My story

I first had cane training (mobility training as it’s formally called) when I was at school. The training is done by a professional, called a rehabilitation worker. The rehabilitation worker taught me some cane techniques and in the following sessions we proceeded to do routes around my school, to my classrooms and such places. Let’s just say, I absolutely hated the training. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy learning to use the cane, because that’s not true, I love learning but there was something about it that filled me with dread and a hatred towards this white cane. I don’t know fully what it was but I think there were a couple of contributing factors: the fact that I was using it for the first time around my school, the place where I knew a lot of people and they’d see me with this thing and probably wonder what the hell I was doing? The second being the negative thoughts that I was having, what would people think of me using a cane, was I standing out even more so than before, what if I bumped into them? Having mobility training isn’t something your average teenager does, unless they have a visual impairment. When you’re in your teens, you want to fit in, make friends, socialise with others…you get my drift. How the hell was I going to do that when I was lumbered with this thing? I also didn’t find the lessons fun, I’m quite a motivated person so I’d have preferred to get out and about rather than being in the same environment. Obviously, I needed to learn the routes round my school, but I would have liked a variety of routes, have a change of scenery, rather than just the same building constantly. I got to grips with using the cane and things improved slowly.

Later on, I was then taught how to cross roads safely and independently. One of the major downfalls of this though was that I only learned the route between my home and my school so I didn’t really enjoy it. There wasn’t any option for me to learn other routes and do things that I wanted to do. I was proud of myself for achieving this goal and getting that far but I still wasn’t fully happy within myself using a cane. I didn’t use the cane around school and when I went out I didn’t use it as much as I should have, when you don’t like something it’s hard to motivate yourself to do it.

When I entered sixth form, I gradually became more confident and comfortable using a cane. I started to realise that it was my way of being independent; rather than relying on others. Granted, I wasn’t 100 % comfortable with the whole concept, but I was getting there.

When I entered my second and final year of sixth form I started applying for university, just like everyone else. When I was doing this, I knew that I wasn’t fully confident using a cane and knew that I needed to get myself into gear and needed to do something about it. I spoke to my parents about it, we spoke long and hard and did our research into different options and this is when I enquired about going to a specialist school for a short period of time. One of them got back to me and it was agreed that I would spend a week there in summer. During this week I had intense training on independent living skills and mobility training. Let me tell you, I learned more mobility skills during that week than I had ever done previously. I’m not saying that this is the right option for everyone because it was something that I enquired about myself rather than a professional advising me to do something like that, but it was definitely a great experience for me. It really gave me the confidence boost that I needed. After attending mainstream school all the way through education, spending a week at a specialist school was rather interesting for me. I feel like that really set me up for starting university that upcoming September.

A few weeks before I started university I had mobility training around campus so that I knew where everything was, in order for me to be able to navigate to my lecture rooms and for me to have a good idea of the campus. I think this was really the turning point for me in terms of my mobility; I was far more confident using a cane and I genuinely felt comfortable using one; I wasn’t as bothered what people thought as it was my mobility aid and my way of getting around. The rehabilitation worker was genuinely lovely and made it enjoyable which took away any anxiety that I had previously. I think it also helped being surrounded by people that weren’t that bothered about my disability, they cared but it didn’t faze them as it did others in school. There’s people from all walks of life at university and others that have the same or similar disabilities so you’re not usually the only one in your institution.

Looking back, I think university was definitely the turning point for me. I found independence and I think that’s one of the most important skills for blind and visually impaired people to have. Since becoming comfortable using a cane I’ve been on a plane on my own and continue to tackle the challenges of public transport. But without motivating myself to be independent I would not have got this far.

 

How I embraced the cane

So as you’ve probably gathered from my experiences above that embracing the cane didn’t come easy to me, my experiences are just one of many and every blind or visually impaired person has their own experiences. Some, like myself learn to have a love/hate relationship with a cane, but for others they may never have this.

I want to tell you how I learned to embrace the cane in the hope that it might help some of you out there.

Find a cane that’s right for you

You don’t have to just use the standard white cane, you can customise your cane. For example, you can purchase coloured canes or even get them customized with  gems or whatever you fancy. Your cane is your mobility aid at the end of the day so it’s up to you! There are various opinions around whether people should just have standard white canes or customize them, but personally I think it is all about personal preference.

 

Do not give up

You may want to give up at first, especially if you’re finding it challenging but not giving up is key. If you give up then you won’t achieve anything so why quit? No one said that it would be easy.

Believe in yourself

This is so important. Believing in yourself is one key to happiness and independence.

Stop caring what others think and focus on yourself

This applies to many aspects of life but things become so much easier when you stop caring what others may think of you and focus on yourself. So what if you’re walking down the street with a cane or guide dog? Your disability is a part of you. Feeling comfortable within yourself is so important.

Think of the positives

Embracing the cane will provide you with independence, lifelong skills and so much more so rather than thinking about the negative aspects, look at the positives. Remember what I said before, the glass is half full, not half empty.

Look towards the future

Just think what you can achieve if you can conquer something like this.

 

That concludes today’s post, I hope you enjoyed reading and possibly learnt something from it.

As always, thank you for reading.

Holly x