As a wheelchair user one of my greatest challenges is still transport, even after more than a decade of disability discrimination legislation. I live an active, independent life and need to get around London for work and for pleasure. My work as a writer and researcher takes me around London and I attend professional conferences on a regular basis. I am a keen patron of the arts and this means I am invited to attend theatres for special events as well as going frequently for performances.
But I am often exhausted before I even start the journey. The underground is impossible. I can use buses, except on some occasions when the driver says my electric wheelchair is too heavy, which is a curious anomaly that I still fail to understand.
If a bus is not appropriate, I try a taxi, and this is where the problems lie. Hailing a cab in the street is hard enough if you’re able bodied, but in my wheelchair I’m lower than people standing up and cabs often do not see me or perhaps they simply choose not to see me. If they do stop, the next problem is getting in. My electric wheelchair fits into most cabs but there is one taxi manufacturer – Fairway – some of whose doors I find too narrow. Once I know I can actually get in, the taxi driver needs to flip down the ramp – if there is one. Most taxi drivers are brilliant and really helpful but some just can’t be bothered “I’ve got a bad back” is a favourite excuse.
Dial-a-Ride provides transport to people in London at a price almost comparable to a bus fare. I have used them for many years. But it seems to me their service has deteriorated since they moved to a call centre system. Whereas the local team who used to answer the phone would recognise my name and address, and knew my requirements, the call centre, as might be expected, is impersonal. I’ve recently had the Dial-a-Ride van arrive when I did not book it and had trips I did book cancelled. These would be frustrations for able-bodied people but can be the last straw for me. The last time I used them they left me stranded late at night and needing to find a cab.
I cannot respond rapidly I often have to plan well in advance and book my transport with the confidence that it will arrive on time. So, when you see someone on the street in a wheelchair trying to hail a cab, please don’t run out in front and grab it.
Anna C Young is a disability activist