Over the last few years it seems that much of the progress made in helping disabled people feel more welcomed and more equal in society has been reversed. We hear more stories of individuals discriminated against by businesses, government, transport staff, and members of the public — although everybody is always very apologetic afterwards. While we have shows such as The Last Leg, and travel presenters such as Ade Adepitan, showing the nation that being disabled no longer means you have to be sidelined and ignored, many people still struggle day to day. So what went wrong, and can it be fixed?
Rail Travellers Discriminated
To highlight the problems, let’s look at a few of the worst cases of discrimination we’ve seen over the last year. In many of these cases disabled people have been made to feel unwelcome and insulted in public places.
In July 2018, Tanyalee Davis, a disabled comedian, was ‘harassed and humiliated’ when she used a disabled space for her mobility scooter. The train guard threatened to report her to the police. The reason for the conflict was that a young mother wished to park her pram in the space reserved for the disabled. It is hard to believe that in today’s Britain a member of the public would complain that a disabled passenger was using the disabled space for their mobility scooter; and worse, that rail staff would threaten to call the police to remove the disabled person. Maybe we should be grateful that she was not dragged off the train.
Great Western Railway (GWR) said they were ‘collectively horrified’, and were very sorry. But, that was not the end of her problems, as only a few days later, station staff told the train guard she had been helped off a train, when in fact she had been left waiting by the doors. She missed her stop. An LNER spokesperson said:
‘We are very sorry for the unacceptable experience Ms Davis had whilst travelling with us’.
Finally, in October an autistic boy was mocked by GWR staff at Paddington Station. His mother asked if it would be possible to catch an earlier train as they were two hours early and her son was finding the intensity of the station challenging. The result was jeering staff accusing her of fraud. A GWR spokesperson said: ‘
‘We are sorry to learn of Sarah’s experience … ‘
If you think that these might be isolated cases, you are wrong. The Metro reported last year that rail staff have been told not to help disabled people board trains if it is likely to cause a delay. Disabled people are officially second-class citizens when it comes to travel.
Discrimination In The Air
In August 2018, Jack Johnson a 10-year-old disabled boy, was asked to prove that he was disabled before he was allowed to use a mobility scooter. It took two hours before Jet2 staff allowed him to board a flight. Jet2 said sorry.
In September more discrimination against the disabled was carried out by Ryanair staff. A grandmother and her disabled son were forced to leave a Ryanair flight because staff couldn’t work out how to fold his electric wheelchair. They were offered a flight the following day, but again staff struggled with his folding powerchair, and the captain apologised … to the rest of the passengers for delay caused by ‘the lady with the wheelchair’. OmniServ and Liverpool Airport all said sorry afterwards.
Disabled Are Being Left Behind
Being left behind is a common problem for the disabled. You’d think staff would be aware of the risk of generating more bad publicity, but the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner, was left on an empty plane at Heathow Airport twice in one year. On one occasion he was stuck for two hours after staff lost his wheelchair — somebody took the wheelchair to the terminal, not realising it’s owner might need it. Guess what? The airport apologised.
You don’t have to go far to experience discrimination if you are disabled. Asda staff decided in December 2018 to ban mobility scooters from their cafe. Staff suggested that one customer should, ‘return the scooter and walk back to the café’. Very helpful.
But more shocking than this, in November a disabled customer in Pret A Manger dared to use the disabled toilets. On exiting the toilet, Kirsty Llloyd was shouted at by Pret staff, which was both embarrassing and shocking for her. The reason for the attack — the staff didn’t understand, or even ask, about her disability. Pret said ‘we’re really sorry about the treatment Kirsty received at our shop’.
Councils Cutting Free Transport for Disabled
It is not just trains and planes that discriminate though. Thanks to austerity, many councils are cutting free school bus services for disabled children to specialist schools. In Coventry, 16-year-old Sara Grove had been given free school transport from the age of three, but at sixteen this service was cancelled and he mum was asked to pay £600. Specialist schools are usually many miles from the homes of the children that attend them. The charity Contact has seen similar cases in Leicestershire, West Sussex, North Yorkshire, Leeds, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Suffolk.
And it is not just school children who are having their transport cut. In Nottingham, free bus and tram travel for disabled people has been cut. Nottingham East MP Chris Leslie described the situation as:
‘a step backwards for equal opportunities’.
Now Is The Time — Stop Saying Sorry!
It seems that everybody is always very sorry for being so rude and discriminatory towards disabled people. So why does it carry on? We see both government policy and business procedures making it harder for disabled people to travel on planes, trains and buses. Disabled people are also reporting increased discrimination from other members of the public. Whenever the government, organisations and businesses publicly discriminate, it sends out a clear message — it’s open season on the disabled, everybody can have a go.
In January this year Scope launched a new campaign, Now Is The Time, to raise awareness of discrimination against the disabled. Scope’s research has revealed that ‘87% of parents have felt judged by members of the public, 41% of them were offered no emotional support’. Scope is asking the government to appoint a Minister for Disabled Children and Families, and for more funding to be made available to families to provide emotional support for the whole family.
If you are disabled or a carer and have witnessed bullying and discrimination, share you experiences in the comments below. Support movements such as Scope and Disability Awareness in Acton, and work with organisations in schools and colleges. The only way to overcome discrimination is to fight it head on. Raise awareness, shout out, and be the generation that brings about positive change.