We’re all Equal Now

Here’s an example of access for sick and disabled people in the UK today. Now, Carolyn from Northern seems like a kind and thoughtful respondent. There is clearly regret in the response. But the truth remains that just one person in a wheelchair of certain dimensions can travel at any one time on a Northern Train. Unless a scooter can be folded and carried onto a train, and presumable, the disabled person can transfer to a normal train seat, travel is not permitted at all. 
I didn’t think about this stuff much until recently, when I started to need a wheelchair here and there myself. It’s been a complete eye-opener for me – I thought it might be for you too. Everything in the post-paralympic garden is not as rosy as one might imagine. 
I don’t imagine anyone has unkindly restricted the access of sick and disabled people on a company’s-worth of trains. But the truth remains, it just hasn’t been a high enough priority for train companies to comply with their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. Or to meet the commitments ratified by the UK under the UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) to include sick and disabled people as fully as possible in society. But not just train companies. Stations must be made accessible too. “Mind the Gap” must become a thing of the past. No-one is arguing it’s not a huge task. 
But it’s a worthwhile one if we want to cling on to any vestige of being the best that we can be, all together.
There is a desire in this response to do better. Now, in 2013 it’s time to DO better. 

From: Media Relations <Media.Relations@northernrail.org>
Date: 27 August 2013 17:41:59 BST
To: XXXXX (Redacted)
Subject: Northern’s policy re mobility scooters

Dear Sir,
Further to our telephone conversation this morning, I am writing to confirm Northern’s policy on mobility scooters, and more broadly the support and guidance we provide for our disabled customers.
Mobility Scooters
Firstly, I must stress that Northern is committed to improving access to our network and we support and comply with our obligations under the Equality Act.
We do carry wheelchairs up to 67cm wide and 120cm long as explained in the National Rail publication, ‘Rail Travel for Disabled Passengers’. However, due to restricted maneuverability and stability we currently do not accept any type of scooter for travel on our services, regardless of size, unless it can be folded and carried on board as a piece of luggage.  Our staff will be available to assist with this.
We cannot carry unfolded mobility scooters because:

·         We operate several different types of trains, which call at over 500 stations all with varying platform heights so we cannot guarantee any ramp gradient.  This can cause safety issues when driving a mobility scooter on or off a train
·         The variety of scooter designs also means some have the risk of tipping backwards on ramps; are heavier than the ramp’s safe working load or are the wrong shape to manoeuvre safely inside the carriage

All our trains have room for at least one wheelchair and our trains were designed to allow easy access for wheelchair users to this space. Unfortunately, as there is no standard design for scooters (unlike wheelchairs) we cannot guarantee that a scooter user will be able to manoeuvre their vehicle into the wheelchair space. I hope you can appreciate that we cannot allow passengers to travel, sitting on their scooter in a doorway or vestibule. This could block an evacuation in an emergency and pose an unacceptable risk to both the scooter user and other passengers.
We do understand that more and more people are choosing scooters rather than wheelchairs to aid with mobility.  That is why we are undertaking localised trials where variations on scooter design, platform height and type of train can be reduced or isolated to test safety implications – if successful these could operate on a permit system.  We are also working with our industry partners to find realistic solutions for our customers who wish to use mobility scooters, unfortunately in the short term it is unlikely that the types of trains we use will change significantly.
Further guidance

Our website contains information about accessibility for customers, including details of Passenger Assist where we can arrange for help and assistance or provide alternative means of travel if a station is inaccessible – it is a freephone number 08081 56 16 06.

It is also possible to download a copy of our guide ‘Making Rail Accessible – Helping older and disabled passengers’ – the link is here: http://www.northernrail.org/northern/passengercharter/pdfs/dppp_2012_final.pdf
or you can request a hard copy from our Customer Relations team on 0845 00 00 125.
Yours faithfully

Carolyn Watson
Head of Corporate Communications
Northern Rail Ltd
Northern House

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