Category Archives: attitudes to disability

I’ve been left on trains and called ‘a wheelchair’ – train companies need to improve their treatment of disabled customers

This week, BBC Rip Off Britain highlights the experience of disabled passengers on trains. Far too often, inaccessible transport stops disabled people from enjoying the same opportunities as everyone else. In some cases, people have been through stressful and upsetting incidents – from train staff forgetting them to being treated like an object. In this blog, Steph shares her experiences. 

Every day across the UK 100s of disabled people are left stranded on train platforms. As a wheelchair user, I use trains frequently to go to work and to socialise. But, of course, the one thing that I’m constantly aware of when travelling is accessibility.

When it comes to train travel, both locally and nationally, train companies have issues with the way that they deal with disabled people.

If you’re disabled, you always have to plan ahead

I have to plan my journey before I go anywhere in ways that non-disabled people don’t need to, and I rely on the services of train companies to get me to my destination without a hitch but this isn’t always the reality.

There have been instances when a member of staff at my local station has been unable to put me on or take me off the train due to medical reasons. They said “Our staff will always do their best to assist customers, but there may be occasions when they do not have the physical ability to place ramps. In such circumstances, alternative transport will be arranged.”

While they do offer a taxi to take me to the next accessible station, this can take over an hour to arrive, or they ask me to phone them in advance to book travel, which isn’t always possible.

I feel panicked when assistance doesn’t show up

Sometimes, when you can book assistance, nobody shows up. There have been several times when I have booked assistance with a train company and a member of staff has failed to meet me at the station, leaving me panicked because I don’t know whether they will come and take me off before the train departs.

And it’s not just me. Ceri Smith, Policy Manager for the disability charity Scope, spoke on BBC Wiltshire in April and said that ‘1 in 5 disabled people who have booked assistance on a train only to find that there isn’t assistance to get off the train at their arrival station’.

This is a very simple part of the service I expect as a disabled person. But when this occurs, I am left questioning why I should book assistance in the first place if this need can’t be met.

Steph a disabled woman smiling, sitting in her wheelchair in front of a radiator and white wall

I can’t use some train stations, so journeys take a lot longer

Not being able to go to a station due to lack of physical access is also an issue. My local train company, has a policy in place to order a taxi to take me to the next available station. This sounds like a good idea in practice, but the reality I’ve found to be completely different.

I went to Port Sunlight on a trip to the theatre and I found out at Central Station that it wasn’t accessible. It really baffled me that this is the case as Port Sunlight is a prominent tourist attraction.

I needed to travel to the nearest accessible station and get a taxi from there. There weren’t any accessible taxis available, and so the suggestion was to get one from Liverpool which would take over an hour at least.

Things like this are a real inconvenience to me.

Things are improving, but there’s more to be done

Of course, this is not to say that there aren’t staff who do their jobs well and provide great service for disabled people because there are and that certainly has been the case for me.

There has been improvement. Under the Access for All programme, introduced in 2006, The Guardian stated that ‘150 stations have been upgraded to remove barriers to independent travel, including by installing signs, ramps and lifts. A further 68 are under construction or in development.’ But, at the same time, I feel that disabled people are still not being taken seriously across the board when it comes to train travel.

It would be fantastic to see train companies work with disabled people directly to ensure that the policies they offer, when it comes to an element of the journey not being accessible, are realistic. And if they aren’t, they need to find an alternative that really works.

Also, the attitudes and terminology staff use towards disabled people who travel by train are important too. I’m not an object, so don’t call me a ‘wheelchair’. Instead, use the term ‘wheelchair user’, it’s far more appropriate.

We want to feel empowered, respected and valued just like non- disabled people. There’s progress that is being made, but there is so much more that needs to be done.

Keep the conversation going on Twitter by sharing your experiences, tagging @Scope and using the hashtag #RipOffBritain.

Or join the discussion on our online community.

Our new report shows disabled people still face negative attitudes

Our new report, The Disability Perception Gap, reveals the extent of the negative attitudes that are held towards disabled people – and how many non-disabled people don’t realise the scale of the problem.

The way other people act towards us can have a huge impact on how we view ourselves and our role in society. An occasional moment of rudeness or being ignored may be a minor inconvenience or annoyance. But the more it happens, the more the impact adds up.

For many disabled people, this will sound all too familiar. Whether it’s outright hostility, or seemingly minor incidents that add up to a hostile atmosphere, prejudice remains a common occurrence. Negative attitudes from others can be one of the biggest barrier to disabled people living life the way they want, and more needs to be done to tackle them.

The research in this report was carried out on behalf of Scope by the National Centre for Social Research as part of the annual British Social Attitudes Survey.

What is the Perception Gap

According to our new research released today, one in three disabled people still feel that there’s a lot of prejudice against disabled people. But only one in five non-disabled people think the same. This is what we’re calling the disability perception gap.

It may seem self-evident that disabled people face prejudice, but many non-disabled people do not understand the scale of the negative attitudes towards disability.

Some difference wouldn’t be surprising – disabled people have to live with this prejudice every day, whereas non-disabled people may only ever know about it second hand.

But this gap is growing. In 2000, there was only a slight difference between the views of disabled and non-disabled people when it came to disability prejudice. Over the last 20 years, however, the gap has trebled.

Illustration of the gap in perception between disabled and non-disabled people
“The gap between disabled and non-disabled people’s views of prejudice has trebled since 2000” – Disability Perception Gap

There is now a real danger that many non-disabled people think that disability prejudice has been tackled long before it has been, which could block further attempts to improve the situation. Instead of this complacency, we need to make sure that the experiences of disabled people are listened to and put at the heart of any programme designed to address negative and harmful attitudes.

Being close to disability can help

When it comes to improving understanding, it seems that nothing beats personal contact with a disabled person. Whether it’s a colleague, a friend or a family member, having a relationship with a disabled person makes a real difference to non-disabled people’s attitudes.

For example, 10 percent of people who claim not to know any disabled people think of disabled people as ‘getting in the way’ some of the time – an opinion held by only 3 percent of people with a disabled colleague.

However, a third of the population claim not to know a single disabled person. This means that their views on disability are far more likely to be based on stereotypes than any knowledge of what life is like for a disabled person.

Any attempt to improve attitudes will have to increase people’s understanding of what it means to be disabled, and the challenges that disabled people face on a daily basis.

Driving change

To do this requires a concerted effort across society to tackle prejudice and negative attitudes towards disabled people. This should include a variety of spaces; from the classroom to the boardroom, and all points in between.

This is why we are calling for efforts to get more disabled people into work to be amplified. With only 7 percent of people saying they have a disabled colleague, a million more disabled people in work could make a real difference to people’s views of disability and disabled people.

It’s why we’re calling on the media to do more to ensure that disabled people and their experiences are properly represented on screen. By supporting disabled talent, they can show what it means to be disabled in 2018.

Such efforts on their own will help, but they won’t be sufficient. We need a coherent approach to improving attitudes across all areas of life. Earlier this week the Government announced a new working group to look at the issues facing disabled people.

We’re calling on this group, and the rest of Government, to take prejudice seriously and launch a new cross-departmental disability strategy, focussed on improving attitudes and reducing prejudice towards disabled people.

What comes next?

This report is the start of something, not the end. We will be working to better understand how negative attitudes impact on disabled people, and how these can best be tackled.

There’s no single fix for this problem, and as part of our campaign for everyday equality for disabled people, we’d like to hear about your experiences and what you would like to see change.

Will you support our campaign by telling us your experiences?

Virgin Media helps ParalympicsGB go for gold

In this guest post, our partner Virgin Media, is excited to announce their partnership with the British Paralympic Association (BPA). 

Virgin Media in partnership with us and the BPA have the ambition to positively change attitudes towards disability to drive participation of disabled people in work and everyday life.

At Virgin Media, we celebrate and value differences. This includes working to change attitudes towards disability – supporting disabled people in work and everyday life. That’s why we have partnered with Scope until 2020 to support more disabled people to get into and stay in work.

But our ambitions don’t end there. We also want to change attitudes towards disability to help drive participation of disabled people in the UK.

That’s why we’re so delighted to announce our new partnership with the BPA. This means that Virgin Media is supporting ParalympicsGB in their fearless quest, both in PyeongChang and in Tokyo in 2020. We’ve watched ParalympicsGB go from strength to strength over the years and I am thrilled we have the opportunity to support these athletes so they can reach even greater heights.

Not only does this partnership sit perfectly alongside our existing work with Scope, we know that sport has the power to inspire the country.

The 2012 and 2016 Paralympics were landmark moments that saw the country rally behind our Paralympic stars. And it did more than just spur us to unprecedented successes at the games.

Research from Scope shows that these sporting successes can change attitudes right across society:

  • Three quarters (78%) of disabled people say the Paralympics improve attitudes and four in five (82%) say the Games change negative assumptions to disability.
  • The poll of 1,000 disabled adults reveals that four in five (82%) believe the Games make disabled people more visible in wider society and challenge negative assumptions about what disabled people can achieve.
  • And more than three quarters (78%) of disabled people say the Paralympics have a positive impact on attitudes to disability.

In addition, recent research we commissioned to mark the start of our partnership with the BPA showed that Paralympians are the most inspirational athletes for young children.

Of course sport can’t change everything. That is why Virgin Media, Scope and BPA will be campaigning all year round, long after ParalympicsGB leave PyeongChang.

We are partnering with incredible organisations like Scope and the BPA to transform lives of disabled people, whether it’s on the snow or ice, in the workplace, or by shifting attitudes towards disability.

Our amazing Paralympians are already achieving great things in PyeongChang everyone at Virgin Media is cheering the team on.

To keep up to date on how ParalympicsGB is performing at PyeongChang, visit the BPA’s website or follow them on Twitter @ParalympicsGB

“A wheelchair is just a seat you’re sitting in.” – International Wheelchair Day

Today (1 March) is the ten year anniversary of the first International Wheelchair Day (IWD). To celebrate, we spoke to the event’s founder, Steve Wilkinson, who told us how he turned it into a global event and why it’s such an important date in the calendar.

I was born with Spina Bifida back in 1953. I had a wheelchair when I was a kid, but preferred to walk, which I could do thanks to the calliper I wore and the walking sticks I used right through until about six years ago.

In 1987 I was on holiday in Florida and went to the Disney theme parks and hired one of their chairs. The freedom it instantly gave me was huge. When I got home, I got my own wheelchair and it allowed me to go much further distances and more comfortably. I couldn’t get anywhere without it now, it’s my life.

I started to campaign about wheelchairs and disability in the 90s when I saw how difficult it was to get into places and the access issues wheelchair users faced.

I worked with a lot of organisations on accessibility issues and campaigns. It made me realise that I wanted to start my own business. I’ve learnt over the years that a lot of good ideas fail because they don’t get enough mass engagement. That’s the biggest thing you need to give an idea momentum.

International Wheelchair Day was born

In February 2008, I started researching International Wheelchair Day and was surprised to find that there wasn’t one. I’m quite an adventurous person so I thought let’s just do something and see what happens.

I chose 1 March in memory of my mother because when I was a child, she was everything to me. She pushed me, both physically in my wheelchair and also as a person to take on challenges and be a positive person. She was my inspiration.

So on 1 March 2008, I put a post out on the internet about it announcing ‘Today is International Wheelchair Day, I know this because I just invented it’. However, these were the days before Facebook and Twitter were big things and nothing happened.

A year later I put another post up and again nothing happened. The third year, I discovered that a disability group in Salisbury had recognised IWD and were having a meeting about wheelchair access. I thought, ‘get in, somebody’s found it!’

It was 2011 when things actually took off. Hannah Ensor, a wheelchair user and a talented cartoonist, got in touch to say she’d heard about IWD and that she’d designed a logo for it. So that was it, out of the blue we had a logo. For every year since, Hannah has designed the official logo and every year it’s slightly different.

That was important because someone else had recognised the day and made it feel official. From there it’s just grown year on year.

Going global

In 2012 I went to Australia and met with a disability group in Adelaide and Gail Miller, the author of a book about life in a wheelchair. They were keen to recognise IWD and we held an event attended by the South Australia Disability Minister and Kelly Vincent, a member of the South Australia parliament (who was also a wheelchair user). They also helped me get some interviews on the radio in Australia and it just really took off there.

That year I also got an email from a woman in Nepal. They were having a parade of 80 wheelchair users in Kathmandu to celebrate International Wheelchair Day. For me, that’s become symbolic of what this day is. It’s all about engagement of people in a collective event. Last year they had 239 wheelchair users in their parade. They’re doing it again this year.

IWD2016 Nepal 5(Parade with close up banner)
International Wheelchair Day parade in Nepal 2016

What’s next?

Every year I wake up the day after IWD, go online and discover all these different events around the world where people are celebrating it. It’s really gone viral. If you google it now, there are thousands of mentions of it. It’s got a life of its own!

A girl got in touch with me recently and told me that she wasn’t able to get out of bed most of the time. However, the five minutes that she spent outside in her wheelchair on IWD was her celebration. I just think that’s a fantastic story.

The wonderful thing about IWD is that there’s no one way to recognise it. People celebrate it in very different ways.

There are big events happening across the world. People mark IWD here in the UK and in Australia, Nepal, Senegal, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the United States of America. There are probably events elsewhere that I’m unaware of. It’s fantastic!

This year is the 10th anniversary of the first International Wheelchair Day, I hope it continues to grow and more people can engage with it and feel a part of something.

 Find out more about International Wheelchair Day.