26 Mar 2012

How Paralympian Tanni had to crawl from train

As Channel 4 News launches No Go Britain, an investigation into transport for the disabled, the UK’s most successful disabled athlete reveals how she was recently left stranded on a train.

Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson forced to 'crawl' off train. (Reuters)

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who with 16 Paralympic medals to her name (including 11 gold medals) is Britain’s most decorated athlete ever, is calling for renewed efforts to make travelling on public transport easier for mobility-impaired people.

As part of No Go Britain, a Channel 4 News investigation into disabled travel in the UK, she has revealed that just weeks ago she was forced to throw her wheelchair from a train and then crawl off because no one was on the platform to offer assistance.

Passengers are advised to inform their train operator or Network Rail 24 hours in advance if they require “help getting on or off a train, or ramps for a wheelchair”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson explained that this system sometimes fails.

She said that despite some progress, disabled people are still very often treated liked “second class passengers” and that most journeys involve an “element of fear”.

“Well I live in the north east of England but work in London, so I use the train most weeks to commute and have often been left on [the train],” she explained.

“On the most recent one I was left on a train at midnight, nobody came to get me off.

I think as a disabled person travelling, you always have an element of fear… wondering whether you’re going to get off. Tanni Grey-Thompson

“At that time of night there were no staff, so I ended up having to get out of my chair, sit on the floor which is not a terribly pleasant place to sit, throw my chair off the train and then crawl off.

“I’m ok because I can do that – but there’s an awful lot of people who can’t do that.

“And you can’t rely on having someone travelling with you – because actually, why as a disabled person should you have someone travelling with you?

“Or relying on a booking system that mostly works, but a lot of disabled people are very reluctant to use trains, because you can’t guarantee you’ll be met at the other end every time.”

‘Element of fear’

Baroness Grey-Thompson said that London had improved vastly for disabled travellers but in the rest of the UK the situation was still very hit and miss. She expained that disabled people will be nervous about public transport unless there are better “guarantees” that it will be a good experience.

“I think as a disabled person travelling, you always have an element of fear or just feeling uncomfortable, wondering whether you’re going to get off,” she said.

“For me I know it’s ok, but do I worry about a large number of other disabled people who don’t have the means to complain.

“Actually, our public transport system for non-disabled people in this country is pretty good.

And what I want to see is lots lots more disabled people using it, but unless there’s some massive changes – not only to the equipment but to staff training, we’re not going to get more disabled people using public transport.”

Political will

“We’re at a time now where disabled people are feeling under a lot of pressure,” explained Baroness Grey-Thompson.

“I think there is a political will; I think what is quite difficult is the understanding about the cost. It’s not always the very expensive equipment costs, it’s about changing attitudes. It’s almost an ever-decreasing circle – for companies to justify the expense they need disabled people to travel but disabled people won’t travel unless there’s some guarantees that they will get where they want to be in a timely fashion.

“Disabled people shouldn’t have to spend twice as long travelling as everybody else.”

“At the times we are at the moment, when there are going to be big changes to welfare, an awful lot of people are not going to make the transfer from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence payments that means actually they could lose their cars – if public transport is not accessible it will mean even more disabled people will lose jobs or find it very difficult to get into work.

“I want lots and lots of disabled people out there – in jobs, in work, having a social life and the key to making that better is making public transport better – for everybody.”

No Go Britain

Channel 4 News has launched an investigation into how easy it is for disabled people, and those with reduced mobility and visual impairment, to use the UK’s public transport system. No Go Britain will ask disabled viewers and users for their experiences of public transport across the UK. The project will engage with public transport users, charities, transport companies and policymakers.

We will bring disabled travellers together with transport bosses, and show a series of reports that investigate the state of the network through the stories of its disabled users.

We want to hear your stories at facebook.com/nogobritain