Accessible transport is vital for people with a learning disability to live independently. Getting out and about can be difficult, but there are examples of good practice
Imagine getting on a bus, asking the driver if it was stopping at a certain place and being shouted at. Or boarding a train and being told that the only place for you was in the carriage with the parcels and bikes. What about if travel was so expensive that you couldn’t leave the house? Many people with a learning disability have to deal with experiences like these frequently.
Good transport links are important to everyone, but for people with a learning disability, they are vital to ensure that they can live a normal, independent life. Without the ability to travel, many wouldn’t be able to visit friends and family, do their shopping, go to work or get to doctors’ appointments.
Because the vast majority of people with a disability don’t have access to a car, they rely on public transport. But worryingly, according to research for the Disability Rights Commission, 1 in 4 disabled people lack confidence in using it.
“Personal safety is a big issue,” explains Mencap campaigns support officer Clare Lucas. “People are vulnerable on public transport and often report hate crime.”
A recent survey by Scope revealed that 47% of disabled people faced some form of discrimination on public transport, and 15% said they faced ‘high-level’ abuse. The problem is exacerbated when there are either no visible transport staff or staff who add to the problem. Nearly a third of the disabled people questioned in the Scope survey felt they had been discriminated against by a bus driver, 29% by a taxi driver and 25% by train staff.
If staff are unhelpful, this increases the problem of inaccessibility. The information available from public transport providers is often difficult to understand – maps and timetables are complex and use tiny print. So with no one to ask, getting around on public transport can be hard for someone with a learning disability. “A common problem is knowing which stop to get off at or where to change,” Clare explains. “And there’s not necessarily consistency in signage.”
Physical access is also a problem for those with a physical disability – so much so that it was discussed in parliament recently. In October, Labour MP for Wigan Lisa Nandy shared the plight of a group of her constituents who could not all get a space on the same train.
“Astonishingly, I found that they were the fortunate ones,” she said. “Half of all train stations do not have level access, so it turns out that they were actually lucky to even be able to get on to the train platform in the first place.” During the debate, MPs also discussed access issues at airports and on planes and buses.
An even more pressing problem is cost. “We all know how expensive travel can be,” explains Clare Lucas. “But if you’re on a limited budget and you’re relying on benefits, you really need transport to be affordable, which is obviously where government concessions were so positive. That’s why we’re so concerned by changes we’re seeing.”
The withdrawal of the concessionary coach fare scheme for disabled and older people in England, for example, means that discounts on long-distance coach travel, which many people with a learning disability rely on to visit friends and family, are no longer available.
Some good news, however, is that the government has cancelled plans to withdraw the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from people in residential care. This allows them to meet some of the extra costs of accessing suitable transport.