Tag Archives: Travelling

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.

“Loneliness tore me apart, but volunteering has given me a purpose”

On this year’s International Volunteer Day, Lisa, a volunteer with an adventurous spirit, talks about how volunteering has helped her to gain confidence and independence.

I was a busy working mum with a mortgage, a job in catering, and a love of the outdoors. I also regularly volunteered as a Beaver Leader at a local Scout Group. Then in 2007, I was diagnosed with a condition called Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. It affects the joints in my pelvis and makes it difficult for me to stand and walk.

Life took a turn for the worst

My job at the time was very physical; I worked in a school kitchen, so was constantly lifting and moving around. I tried to make it work after I became ill; my employers were understanding and made adaptions for me. During the day I was working hard to provide balanced meals for children, but was too tired to cook a proper meal for my son in the evenings. I knew something had to give, and reluctantly handed in my notice.

During this time, my health continued to deteriorate, I was in constant pain, and was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My house was about to be re-possessed, and my doctor advised that I should give up my home as I was too ill to fight it. On top of this, I was having fits and muscle spasms, and eventually found out I had a spinal condition too. I really missed the mental stimulation of work, and the loneliness of being at home all day was tearing me apart.

Volunteering kept me going…

However, the one thing that kept me going was volunteering with the Scouts. I wasn’t able to continue as a leader, but I agreed to take on a new challenge and manage the administration for Scouting in my county. All I needed was my laptop, Wi-Fi and a phone to enable me to carry on volunteering. As I progressed in the role, my confidence grew, and I started thinking about a new challenge.

Despite my health issues, I’d still always made sure I took part in other volunteering events with the Scouts, such as camps and activity days. They were a great way to catch up with friends and helped me to keep active. In January 2015, I decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and be spontaneous. After hearing about a project at the Scout headquarters in London that needed extra pairs of hands, a friend and I packed a bag and drove through the night to get there. My son was a young man by now, and assured me he was happy to stay with family, and that he wanted me to have an adventure. We were welcomed with open arms, and spent an amazing two weeks mucking in and working with volunteer and staff colleagues.

Disabled woman in wheelchair with a colleague
Lisa with a colleague from the Scouts

I was exhausted after my little adventure; I’d taken time out from my volunteering to rest while I was there, but it still took a while for me to recuperate at home. I’d made some new friends while I was in London, and was thrilled when one of them invited me to come back in the summer for a new project. A Scout Jamboree was happening in Japan, and they needed volunteers in the UK to help support the event and share stories across local media. Despite being apprehensive, as I wouldn’t have a friend from home with me this time, I decided to go for it. It was challenging at times, there were moments when I questioned whether I was well enough to do it, but I stuck it out and managed 16 nights in a tent.

After this, an idea began to develop and I couldn’t ignore it. Since becoming disabled, my confidence had taken a real knock. I used to think I couldn’t do certain things because of my condition. However, volunteering helped me to realise that there are still a lot of things I can do. A plan took shape and I decided that 2016 was to be my year of volunteering adventures.

My volunteering adventures

This year I have travelled the length and breadth of the country, and beyond, undertaking different volunteering projects, making new friends, and challenging myself. I’ve been abroad for the first time since I became disabled. I’ve directed traffic from my wheelchair. I’ve become a member of a camp site volunteer team in Ireland. I’ve been to a festival. I’ve danced at a wedding. I’ve inspired a friend to do a bucket list trip of her own, and many more once in a lifetime experiences.

Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing and there have been trials along the way. At times I felt as if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. There have been tears. Some days I could barely lift my head from my pillow. Lots of rest and recuperation were needed after each event, but I have no regrets.

disabled woman having fun with arms out wide
Lisa having fun and enjoying life.

What volunteering did for me

Volunteering has given me a focus ever since I became disabled. It has given me a reason to leave the house. When I’m having a bad day, it helps to give me a sense of purpose and to turn things around. Being disabled isn’t easy, but you can’t give up. Volunteering gives you a reason to get up in the morning, and can open so many doors for you. A few years ago I never would have dreamed I could have done all this, but volunteering and being a Scout has helped me achieve so much.

If you’re feeling inspired by Lisa’s story, take a look at the volunteering opportunities available with Scope and the Scouts. Or find other volunteering opportunities in your local area by searching on Do-it.org.