One of Team GB’s Paralympic gold medal hopes tells Channel 4 News better training of staff on the UK’s transport network would be a key step towards improving travel for the disabled.
My main discipline is called the club throw, it is a 400g wooden implement and is the equivalent to the javelin for my disability class. My disability is athetoid cerebral palsy affecting all four limbs, this was sustained during birth.
I started doing the sport at an after school sports club and was first coached by a former Paralympic athlete. I was called into the GB team at the age of 15 and a year later I competed in my first Paralympics in Atlanta, it happened very fast.
I go into every competition looking to win and this will be no different, I know I’ll probably need to throw further than ever before to win so I’m working as hard as I can to be in the best shape possible. Above all though, I want to enjoy the occasion.
It’ll be amazing, it’s a unique thing to have a home Olympics and Paralympics and it might not happen again in my lifetime. To have the opportunity to compete at London 2012 is something I’ve made lots of sacrifices for, and I want to make the most of it. Loads of family and friends are going to watch me in London, some have never seen me compete before so it will be special.
No Go Britain is examining public transport access for disabled people. Would you say it’s improving?
I think it is getting better but there is still a lot to be done. My point of view is from being in a wheelchair and I still worry when I travel by train or bus whether it will be accessible. It’s not just accessibility that needs to improve, attitudes towards disability from staff and the public need to improve. If people accepted disability a bit more I don’t think there would be as many problems.
He lectured me that I knew I shouldn’t use buses, so not to do it again.
I can’t drive so I rely on public transport quite a lot to get about, particularly buses, I’ve had many problems getting on buses even though most buses are wheelchair-accessible now. The majority of the time it’s a problem with the ramp not working or the drivers not knowing how to work the ramp. I once waited over an hour to get on a bus home, in that time seven “easy-access” buses left the station that I could not get on.
The worst experience I had was getting the bus home about 10.30pm after a night out with friends, the driver initially refused to let me on because he couldn’t take electric wheelchairs due to them being fire hazards. After arguing he let me get on, then when I got off he lectured me that I knew I shouldn’t use buses, so not to do it again and he told me he only let me on because he didn’t want to leave a disabled person in town that late at night. He’d obviously never heard of taxis.
Tanni Grey-Thompson told us there’s still an ‘element of fear’ for disabled travellers – do you agree?
Absolutely, I think the biggest fear is that you never know what to expect, there is a very wide spectrum in the service provided to disabled people, from very good to extremely poor, and you’re not sure where you stand. Also with the limited capacity for wheelchair users on public transport you have to plan journeys well in advance or just hope there isn’t already a wheelchair on the service.
Name the main changes that would make a positive difference to you and other disabled travellers on public transport
Fully functioning and well-maintained equipment.
Extra capacity for disabled people.