Government outlines plans to make public transport more inclusive

Today the Government has published its new Inclusive Transport Strategy, outlining how they intend to make the transport network more accessible for disabled people. This includes over £300 million of funding to deliver the projects they’ve announced.

A positive commitment

The current transport system is set up in a way which deters – or even prevents – many disabled people from using it. The Inclusive Transport Strategy is a strong step in the right direction, dismantling some of the barriers disabled people face. This is not just about adjusting existing infrastructure to make it physically accessible, but tries to put the needs of all disabled passengers at the heart of designing our transport system.

Access for All

Our recent research found 40 per cent of disabled people have difficulty accessing train stations. The biggest announcement in the Strategy is that the Government is reviving the Access for All program, to provide funds to make railway stations more accessible. The £300 million which has been announced for the fund will go towards installing everything from lifts to tactile paving and automatic doors at more stations.

“I’ve lost out on great job opportunities because I arrived so late. There are no step-free stations near me so I have to drive everywhere, which takes so much longer” – Conrad

And this is on top of existing requirements for station operators to improve accessibility when they renovate their stations.

It’s not just railways that are getting an upgrade. The Strategy also announced that £2 million will be spent installing Changing Places facilities in motorway service stations, allowing more disabled people travelling by car to access a suitable toilet.

Attitudes

Disabled people frequently say that one of the biggest barriers to using public transport can be the attitudes of others. Whether it’s a non-disabled person refusing to offer a priority seat to someone who needs it, or a bus driver ignoring a wheelchair user at a bus stop, the attitudes of passengers and staff can make or break disabled people’s experiences of public transport.

“As I am young and have an invisible disability, I am often accused of not needing the accessible seats at the front of buses and…people rarely give up their seat to me when I ask” – Anonymous

The Inclusive Transport Strategy has recognised this, with a focus on both staff training and changing behaviours of non-disabled passengers. This will require bus and rail operators to provide disability awareness training to their staff, and the Government will spearhead a campaign to improve awareness of disability among all passengers.

The Rail Ombudsman

Even after the changes announced, things will still go wrong from time to time. While we want the Government and transport providers to work to eliminate these errors in the first place, it’s important that disabled people are able to complain and have action taken if things don’t go to plan with a journey.

The Strategy has announced a new Rail Ombudsman to help disabled people seek recourse. This body will have the power to rule on complaints relating to accessibility, and deliver binding judgements – meaning it can force train companies to act.

This will be accompanied by a new system for registering complaints about bus services, which will go to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency who can take action against bus companies that don’t meet their obligations.

What’s next?

It’s worth noting that the Inclusive Transport Strategy contains many more proposed changes beyond the ones we’ve discussed in this blog.

While we have welcomed the Strategy, there is still much more to be done to ensure all disabled people are able to access and use transport as they wish.

As well as making sure the proposals from today are implemented in full, we’ll keep pushing the Government to make sure the transport system really is one that is fully inclusive and accessible to all disabled people.

Looking after working and service dogs in the extreme heat

Amit Patel is a speaker for Guide Dogs. He’s guided by Kika – who has become *very* popular on social media.

Unfortunately, Kika’s been having a few problems recently, coping with the hot weather – so Amit writes about his experiences below, and adds some tips for keeping your dog cool in the summer heat.

We can’t control the weather

As a Guide Dog owner, I know full well that the weather is one of those things that you cannot control and can really throw your routine out of the window. Extreme weather is challenging, whether it’s really hot or really cold, it will have an impact on your dog and how they work. But you can prepare for it.

In winter, there is the constant worry of grit getting in a dogs paws (the salt can burn them) and snow covering the ground means that a Guide Dog cannot tell the difference between the road and the pavement or anything hidden underneath in the snow. And let’s not even talk about the black ice!

The past few weeks however have seen the opposite extreme – with temperatures hitting over 30 degrees in the city and trains and tubes getting significantly hotter than that, I’ve had to make some tough decisions to ensure Kika’s well-being.

A Labrador with guide dog harness sitting in the aisle of a underground train
Kika the guide dog rides on public transport

It’s hard to keep cool

Kika is a beautiful white Labrador, but that comes with a very thick fur coat, which, coupled with her leather harness, means that she gets warm quickly. As if the outside temperature wasn’t hot enough, the pavements also heat up and can burn a dogs paws easily.

I rely on Kika to keep me safe, but if she’s hot and bothered, or struggling in the heat, she may find it hard to concentrate and as a consequence, won’t work as well. I’ve also found that like any of us, if she’s made to do something that she doesn’t like or doesn’t feel comfortable doing, like working when its uncomfortably hot, she’s less likely to want to do it again in the future.

I’m dependent on Kika to be able to get out and about in London but recently I’ve had to adjust my routine to avoid peak time trains. I’ve been going in extra early when its cool and coming back early before the evening peak. I’ve also taken alternative routes which have been unfamiliar and which require assistance – this makes journeys longer than usual but can also cause anxiety due to the change in routine. I’ve consciously been taking things slower with plenty of breaks for us both throughout a journey because of all this.

In our experience, extreme weather exacerbates issues on public transport too. Somehow lots of trains have been delayed or cancelled, with more last minute platform alterations than usual recently. Some days it’s been too hot to even attempt the trains during the daytime so I’ve had to take taxis home – adding extra time and expense.

Father with his guide dog and son standing outside number 10 Downing Street
Amit, his son, and Kika, outside number 10!

We still have to work

Like most people, we have to get to work regardless of the weather. I’m fortunate that my clients have been very understanding, I’ve managed to juggle meetings and work from home much more which has meant that Kika hasn’t had to work as much in the heat.

For the days that we have had to travel into London, we start our day even earlier with a good groom for Kika – this helps remove the shed hair, allowing the skin to breathe and trapping less heat in the coat. Kika has a very pink nose which is prone to sunburn, so I also apply a little sun cream (dog safe, of course) to her nose. The challenging part of this is that she always tries to lick it off! I also make sure Kika’s had plenty of cold water before leaving and I carry ice cubes in her water bottle so that it stays cool for as long as possible.

I’ve found that most restaurants and cafes are more than understanding given the extreme heat and will always provide water and ice for your dog if you ask for it. Stopping somewhere so that Kika can cool down is a great excuse for me to also take a break and have a cold drink.

Some people ask why I don’t just leave Kika at home? After all, I have a white cane and I’m trained to use it! But it’s not as simple as that. Kika isn’t a pet, she’s my Guide Dog and she’s been with me 24/7 since we qualified together almost 3 years ago. As she’s a working dog, she comes with me everywhere – to work, restaurants, the hospital and even holidays abroad. She’s never been left home alone for this very reason.

Kika - the Golden Labrador sat between seats n a train panting
Kika on public transport

Amit’s top tips for keeping your working dog cool in the heat:

  • Avoid working your dog unless you absolutely have to – can you work from home or get other assistance to help you get to work, e.g. a taxi or support worker
  • Carry plenty of water for you and your dog
  • Go early when its cooler, come back pre rush – as trains and tubes are considerably warmer
  • Groom your dog more frequently to remove shed hairs which stops heat being trapped in their coats
  • Sun cream on the dogs nose
  • Paddling pool! Great for cooling down kids as well as dogs
  • Ice cubes – both in water but they also make great treats in this heat
  • If you feel that your dog is overheating or struggling to cool down, then hose them down with cool water or apply a cold wet towel to their underbelly and paws. If in doubt, please call your vet.

You can follow Kika and Amit on Twitter – we highly recommend that you do.

Young disabled people share their hopes for equality

Regardless of who we are or where we are from, we must work together to ensure that every member of society has an equal chance to participate in our democracy and to have their say.

Carly Jones MBE hosted an EqualiTeas event at Scope, inviting young disabled people to meet, talk about equality and democracy, eat cake and decorate biscuits! An event championed by UK Parliament, aiming to bring UK communities together to explore what equality means to people.

Carly is an autism advocate who has been tirelessly campaigning for equality for years after her own battle to get a diagnosis.

Here’s Carly’s story.

I asked Scope if they could support a celebration of the “equality of voting rights”, EqualiTeas event at their new Here East offices at Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford. Here I am talking to the Scope team about the event.

Scope team filming Carly who is sat on a sofa.
Carly being filmed.

My hope in asking Scope and I to deliver a get together, was we would be in a better position to amplify the voices of disabled people in the UK. When Scope said they would love to host this event and provide social media and PR staff, plus camera people and scope story tellers all free of charge, I was elated and so grateful!

We created our idols on gingerbread

Guests from different age ranges, genders and disability, arrived from local and not so local areas. We ate cake, and drank tea. Younger guests decorated gingerbread into whatever their idols or ambitions were, which included an astronaut, a mortician and Phil Marsh from Scope.

A younger guest sat at a table painting gingerbread
A younger guest painting (with icing) their idol onto gingerbread.

Huge EqualiTeas posters were used to sound board our needs and hopes for equality. We debated as a group our answers to such questions as “what does equality means to you?” and “have you ever stood up for equality?”.

Our passion for the subject shone through and we noted our responses on the posters themselves.

Carly sitting on the floor writing answers to questions on to the Equaliteas posters
Carly writing answers to questions on the Equaliteas poster

Why this event is important

The reason Scope and I held this event was to ensure that disabled voices were heard in democracy. To inspire a younger disabled generation to not be afraid to step forward. There are approximately 13.9 million disabled people in the UK. We are an extremely large minority group.

To ensure that no one is left behind, our voices and suggestions must be taken seriously. We must have a seat around the democratic tables to fully represent the UK appropriately.

The group sat on chairs discussing equality.
We are having an in-depth conversation about equality.

Young people would like equality to work

Many wanted shops to be more disability friendly. For some their hope was a fair chance at education. Safeguarding and sex education for Autistic girls was of high importance to many, and more representation from the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic disabled community. Some wanted to get the job of their dreams because they were talented and they deserved it not just because they fitted a diversity box ticking exercise by an employer.

That in a way surprised me, we are often given the impression that young people of today, disabled or not, have some form of entitlement. To hear a young person not want special treatment but simple equality to work struck me as incredibly articulate.

Cakes with Equaliteas sticks in them in the foreground. Guests are in the background.
Equaliteas cakes

We all had fun

The guests seemed to really have fun. Parents of the younger guests got in touch to say how proud they were of their young person and to give thanks to Scope and myself which of course is incredibly kind and heartwarming.

Check out more of the story and photos on Instagram, watch our film of the event.

By @CarlyJonesMBE

What’s next

Next up is the Global Disability Summit 23 and 24 July again at Here East, Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford with representatives of Include Me Too (Parmi Dheensa), the Department for International Development, British Council and UK government.

There is often an illusion that when the UK talks disability we do not include our own. This could not be further from the truth. There will be many British disabled advocates and activists participating at the Global Summit for others and our own countries benefit. It’s an absolute honour to be among them and share the voices, wants and needs of others is an absolute pleasure of a duty.

Take part in the conversation at #DisabilitySummit #NowIsTheTime.

If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

If you want to get involved in campaigns and make change happen, have a look around our campaigns page and get in touch.