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The Importance of Accessible Transport

Terry Reynolds, author of “Wheelchairs Scooters and Sticks” and long-time proponent of universally accessible transport, has written this article explaining just why it is so important, and how things have changed over the years.

The 1970s were not great for access

I first become involved with accessible transport in 1971 when I had one minibus that I used to take children to school. This expanded to a fleet of six as I got more involved with the council I was working with. One day the lady in charge of the transport was on the phone when I went into her office, when she banged the phone back on its stand and crossed her arms and said, “well I don’t know what we are going to do.”

One of her friends asked her what was wrong. It turned out that there was a new school for disabled children to open in six months and the phone call was from social services saying they could not provide the transport she needed. I asked her social services were providing the transport, and not people like myself. She looked at me with a grin and asked:

“Do your vehicles carry children in their wheelchairs?”

“Of course not”, I said.

I learned from her that only social services had these vehicles, no private operators. I had a coffee with her and left to go on my school run. While outside one of the children’s homes, a social service vehicle pulled up a little in front of me and I was able to see how the person in the wheelchair was transported. I got a lot of information on the vehicles and worked out a cost, and went back to the council. They were surprised I had done this, and went ahead with me providing this transport.

Better access means more profits

It was one of my best decisions and it made money. Word soon got round that I had wheelchair accessible vehicles, and many other types of council asked me to supply them. Then I started to get involved with private hire going on day trips to the coast. These were a different experience, as they involved adults with all sorts of disabilities – and that’s when you find out about toilets, the lack of accessible toilets, if any at all. The general attitude towards disabled people at that time has always amazed me: you had to see it to believe it.

Later I graduated into accessible holidays – once again run on a commercial basis – which worked very well. It showed hotels and others that providing access would earn them more money, and to look at disabled people in a different way.

“People in wheelchairs don’t have any money” – really?

I remember talking to hotels to see if I could get bookings, and of course this was pre-internet and email, so we had to get telephone numbers from various places. Many times when I finally spoke to a manager and asked them about taking people in wheelchairs, the reply would be: “We don’t take cripples” or “people in wheelchairs don’t have any money”.

Well they got that wrong, but that was the attitude we were up against; more importantly it was what wheelchairs users were up against.

Time has brought improvements, but still a way to go

With the passage of time and now with more understanding, things have got a lot better, and continue to do so. There are many more travel companies that arrange accessible holidays, and the number continues to grow worldwide. Also, as people are living much longer, they also need more access as they get older, and this will also make people more aware of what is needed.

In the future, all transport and accommodation will be completely accessible

All forms of transport should be accessible, whether it is buses, coaches, taxis or trains. So far we have this in the UK – even the underground has some access. Airports are getting better, but it has taken cruise lines a time to see that although they may have accessible cabins and ships, on many occasions you cannot go on a shore excursion as you are unable to get on the coach.

Nevertheless, the more people that travel, the better it will get. Of course the ultimate aim is integration where travelling in a wheelchair is just one more question on a booking form, and all transport and accommodation will be completely accessible. This still is a little way off, but it will happen eventually!

Further resources

Fully accessible toilets are still one of the major barriers to severely disabled people travelling freely. The Changing Places campaign works to get these installed in public venues around the country. You can read more information here

Top tips for travelling with a wheelchair here

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