Rights to get out and about – an open letter to Rail providers and the potential new rail ombudsman

In my role as co-facilitator of York Minds and Voices DEEP group, i am hijacking my blog space to post a letter to the office of rail and road, to the rail delivery group and the department for transport as it is hellishly difficult to find an address to write to on their sites, which have a 900 character limit only.- no good for someone as wordy as me. though this is something we could all have a look at…

Dear Sirs,

Rights to get out and about by rail

Greetings from York Minds and Voices. We are a York-based peer support group of people living with dementia. We promote a message that people can live well and better, regardless of a diagnosis of dementia.

Earlier this year we participated in a national workshop where we discussed the rights of people with dementia to get out and about. We learnt that article 20 of the UN convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) clearly states that everyone regardless of disability has an equal right to get out and about and mobilise with choice of when and where they can go at an affordable price. It got us thinking about a previous rail journey we took with Transpennine Express (TPE) to Manchester.

One of our group of about 15 used her wheelchair to access the station and to get on to the train. We identified which carriage had all our reserved seats. We were told, however, that wheelchair access was only via one set of doors on the train. This was 3 carriage lengths away.

We believe we all had a right to sit together in seats that we had reserved. We subsequently met with TPE, and sought clarification amongst other things on:

  • Why they only had one accessible doorway when another member of our group also had to use a ramp with her walker to access her seat at the opposite end of the train?

Charlie from TPE was great and happy to help arrange a ‘supported journey’ for our group on a trip to Scarborough at the end of August.

On that trip we encountered exactly the same problem! It was generally agreed that the trip to Scarborough was more of a ‘witnessed’ journey than a supported one as Charlie saw for himself the ordeal that some of our members endured having entered the train via the only available ramp to travel along a packed and moving train again. You can read more about our trip to Scarborough here from Wendy one of our members here

We felt that more could have been done to support us in gaining access to our seats – knowing in advance that about 20 people would be waiting to get on that carriage at York.

However, we still had a question about the type of doors and the ramp access being limited to one set of doors.

o   When they came to see us, TPE mentioned that new trains would have a single door at the end of each carriage – which would mean any ramp could be used to help people on to trains (as with other carriers).

o   Their recent message seemed to refer to the same double doors being used for access but situated a little more centrally on the train. This is still not meeting the needs of passengers who use wheelchair/walking frames to get on the train before going to their seats.

On TPE’s advice, we agreed that we would share our experience with agencies such as the Office of Rail and Road, the Rail Delivery Group and the Department for Transport to flag up this general accessibility issue and also to explore how we might support you to better support all potential passengers living with dementia in matters that are clearly Disability Rights Issues. We could support you on a national level, as there are over 90 groups like ours UK wide and together we form part of DEEP – the national network of dementia voices (dementiavoices.org.uk).

Here are some practical suggestions of what we might be able to offer.

  • Bespoke training (this can build on basic dementia awareness and involve people with dementia as co-tutors)
  • Looking at Dementia as a disability – thinking what the equivalent ramps and grab rails might be for a person living with dementia; the ethics around flagging up an invisible disability or not; the use of language and its impact upon individuals with dementia.
  • Environmental audits (a walk-through) with people with dementia navigating a station and its services.
  • Looking at the accessibility of all your published materials.

Obviously these are only suggestions so we would be happy to discuss any options with you at your convenience. If you want to find out more, please free to contact us at any time by email or on the number below.

Currently the group is much more inclined to hire a coach – so can the train truly take the strain?….

we await replies

very best wishes

York Minds and Voices

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