Travelling with a disability is never an easy task. That’s why public transports should be on the forefront of helping out. Unfortunately it seems this is not always the case.
Southern Rail’s cuts
Southern Railway train
This week we got very concerned upon hearing how train companies in the UK are scrapping help for disable people; especially Southern Rail, that is quietly cancelling ‘guaranteed assistance’ from 33 stations.
Transport for All, which campaigns on behalf of disabled passengers, said the company have scrapped their ‘turn up and go’ access at dozens of stations.
Before the change was announced, train maps specified the stations where those needing assistance could turn up and travel.
Now, the maps on the trains say that if such passengers do not book help in advance, ‘there might be a significant delay to your journey’.
A spokesman for Transport For All said: ‘Whether it’s assistance failing to turn up, inaccessible platforms or a lack of accessible facilities on trains, what is clear is that our railways are failing disabled and older passengers.
‘Now, to make matters worse Southern Rail have announced that they are withdrawing turn up and go assistance from 33 stations across their network.
‘This is clearly a huge backwards step for accessibility.’
On the other hand, a Southern spokesman said: ‘Passengers do not have to book assistance before travelling with us.
‘We only recommend this to ensure we have staff prepared with ramps or that alternative travel is in place if a station is not accessible. Our priority is to have an on-board supervisor on services which previously had a conductor.’
‘In the exceptional circumstances when this is not possible, we have a clear, robust process to ensure passengers with accessibility requirements are assisted to complete their journeys.’
Travelling with a Guide Dog on Public Transport
After hearing about these cuts by major Railways companies we scanned the web where we found some other very interesting first person accounts about difficulties of travelling on public transport, in this case we report an informative account on the difficulties of travelling with a guide dog from Patrick Robert, from Lambeth, who is blind and uses his guide dog Rufus to travel around London.
Travelling in London can be a real challenge for people with a visual impairment. Back in 2009 I registered as severely visually impaired (Blind). Since then I have had to adapt myself to the transport network and change my habits. Every time I travel around I’ve got the support from Rufus my guide dog.
This change in my life was not always easy. As a result I joined Transport for All in order to get advice and support when using the different public transport modes. “Lack of communications is one of the biggest challenges I face.
I often struggle on buses: when you’re speaking to a bus driver they don’t always verbally respond, but probably do a sign which I can’t see. I have had also some bad experience with bus drivers not stopping at the bus stop but a few meters away. Obviously if a bus driver does not stop in front of me, it makes it impossible for me to discuss with them and check the bus number.
On the Tube I had a lot of issues following the closure of ticket offices, making it harder for me to find staff to assist me. I need staff in order to travel safely and I need to find them as soon as possible to avoid being targeted by the general public.
Lack of communications is also an issue with taxis. Once I booked a taxi and told the operator that I was travelling with my guide dog and the driver should ring my doorbell when they arrive. I received a telephone call from the operator telling me that my taxi had arrived and was waiting outside for me. I reminded the operator of my earlier instructions and asked how I was supposed to identify the taxi outside?
Five minutes later my doorbell rang as I opened the door the driver was already heading back to his taxi.
Locking my front door, Rufus and I walked up to my front gate, only to hear the driver say he cannot take the dog. He proceeded to rant and rave about dogs not being allowed in his taxi. I told him I had advised the operator that I was travelling with a guide dog and he needs to have a go at them and in the meantime I need to get to this council meeting. I could hear him talking on his phone saying he was not prepared to take me. At this point it had started raining and I said to him he was breaking the law by refusing to take us.
That seemed to subdue him for he assisted me and Rufus into his cab and during the journey he kept apologising saying his custom and culture does not accept dogs and his company knew this. I told him it is against the law to refuse access to guide dog owners and their guide dog.
On another occasion I booked a minicab and told the operator that I was blind and the driver needs to come to my front door and ring my doorbell. The phone rang; it was the driver saying that he could not find my property. I gave him specific directions to my home from the location he described to me. Five minutes later, he rang back and asked me to come outside so he could see where my property was and I could see where he was?
I walked outside and waited about ten minutes and then went back in to find four messages on my answer machine from the driver saying he could not see me; he could only see a guy with a white stick, am I anywhere near him? I called him back and told him I was the guy with the white stick.”
The interview with Patrick Robert has been taken from the inews.co.uk (https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/travelling-disabled-person-taxi-drivers-try-refuse-take-guide-dog-i/)
For any other travel advice or guidance, feel free to contact us and to learn more about our active accessible holidays, click here.
Mohammed Salim Patel is a blind young man from Blackburn, who has been blogging as ‘The Blind Journalist’ on blind travel for several years.
Mohammed suffers from a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. His passion and enthusiasm in communication foster him to attend First Class BA Hons International Journalism degree from the University Of Central Lancashire in Preston. His blind condition, strongly influenced Mohammed’s outlook on life and gives him the motivation to succeed regardless of the obstacles which come on his way.
Mohammed has travelled within Seable Holidays in the last trip organized in Sicily: “Seable Disabled Holidays provides the most authentic experience possible that you wouldn’t get through any other travel agency or tour operator.”
He collected different opinion about the journey within his travel mates: “Seable Disabled Holidays are always prepared to tailorlor your holiday to suit you and your needs. All the staff are very friendly and understanding. You do not feel as if you’re disabled because they make sure you are treated as normal and that you get to do what you want. They will fulfil any dietary or religious requirements you have and do everything in their power to make sure you have the best time with no stress.”
Rosie Johnston, 27, a blind lady from Epsom, London said:“I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday in Sicily. It was a fantastic experience. The Seable staff were very helpful, friendly and informative. I will definitely go on a holiday with Seable again and highly recommend them.”
Furthermore, Mohammed was interested in understanding the people and the mission behind the organization, for this reason he interviewed the founder and general manager of the company: “Damiano La Rocca, 29, from Catania, Italy came up with the idea to provide accessible active holidays, to those with physical or sensorial disabilities, because he wanted to fulfil a life-long dream. “
Damiano said: “My Dad is a scuba-diving instructor. He taught me that in life, you have to accept the challenge. It was that sentiment that drove me to set up Seable Disabled Holidays. Seable is an award winning social enterprise organising accessible and active holidays for individuals, couples, families and small groups. We enable people with limited mobility, impaired vision or deafness to easily participate in life-changing experiences through sporting, cultural and gastronomic activities in new and interesting destinations. Our holidays are tailored for each person and we guarantee a stress-free booking process while providing local knowledge that you need in order to enjoy the holiday to the fullest.”
One of Damiano’s visions was to work with various organisations: “We collaborate with local and international charities to guarantee the maximum level of knowledge and experience. Our partners, aim to make a difference in the world by catering exclusively for people with disabilities.“
Although Seable has only been running for a few years, the organisation has achieved a lot. Seable has a portfolio of achievement that includes two Guinness World Records. Both were in deep-sea diving. The first was in 2007 when a Paraplegic man reached 59 metres underwater. The second was in 2009 when a blind girl reached 41 metres underwater.
On this topic, Damiano said: “Our aim is to improve confidence and skills for life, challenging perceptions of disabilities and blindness. Our emphasis is always on high quality, multi-sensory experiences.”
Aside from scuba-diving, 4×4 off road driving, going to the top of Europe’s highest active volcano; Mount Etna, Mediterranean olive oil making and tactile museum visits; Seable have a whole list of activities they offer, all of which are completely accessible and competitively priced.
Since a large portion of our customers are blind and visually impaired, we thought that a number of you would be interested to hear some blind travel advice. Stephanie Green is a blind freelance writer, braille transcriber and ex-archeologist, who has travelled extensively all over the world. In the article below she gives 5 useful tips for blind travel, including technology recommendations and advice on planning ahead. She also has important points to make about becoming an advocate for your own disability, what blind travel is like around the world, and what it is to be a blind traveler. Read on to hear Stephanie’s advice for blind travel.
5 Tips for Visually Impaired Travelers
Since the age of five, I’ve been an avid traveler.
My decision to become an archaeologist like my hero Indiana Jones led me to drag my parents on far-flung adventures, clambering over ruins and hunting for dinosaurs.
And although I discovered in later years that archeology and blindness do not a make for an easy career, my love of travel never abated.
I was born with achromatopsia – a rare genetic condition where my retina contains no cone cells. I’m completely colour blind, severely short-sighted (considered legally blind), and have no depth perception. Still, I’ve traveled solo, with tour groups, and with my husband throughout New Zealand and all over the world.
From my experiences, I’ve compiled following five tips for visually impaired travelers:
1. Rent a Campervan
If you’re travelling with someone who can drive, consider hiring a campervan. You can arrange the space to suit your needs, so you’ll easily be able to find your things. Your companion drives while you chill out. Or (in my case) your companion – in a brief moment of insanity – allows you to take the wheel and you promptly glide the vehicle towards a tree.
Frequent stops at interesting places along the way alleviate the boredom of long-distance driving. You don’t worry about the minefield of problems with public transport, and you’re not sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings every night. Make sure to pack good music.
2. Travel Connected
Internet cafés don’t provide adequate zoom or speech technology for vision impaired users, so if you can’t travel without the internet, you’ll need to bring your own laptop, cables, wireless unit, and software. I’m never without my laptop when I travel. It’s imperative to check out useful sites like Matador before I hit my next destination.
I use Zoomtext software, which gives me customisable magnification and font/colour programs. I can change the look of the screen and the font and icon size to whatever I want.
Zoomtext has audio features, but they’re not as good as programs like JAWS, which is designed especially for fully-blind computer users.
Since decent large print city maps are nearly impossible to come by, I simply enlarge Google maps on my screen, although JAWS sometimes has difficulty with map programs.
3. Consider a Tour Group
Blind travelers have to take additional care when planning travel: sourcing routes through cities and across countries, locating adequate facilities, and booking special guided tours. With a tour group, you don’t worry about most of this.
Transport, accommodation, sightseeing – it’s all taken care of. Many tour group leaders have some disability awareness training and will assist you with specific needs. There are tour companies who specialise in blind tours (look on Disabled Travelers or ask your local blindness institute for advice).
I’m a social person, so mixing coach tours with solo travel helps me meet new and interesting people, and takes the hassle out of planning certain legs of my trip. I prefer good old fashioned budget backpacking tours, and I’ve found companies like Tucan Travel, Topdeck Tours and Kumuka friendly, helpful, and encouraging.
4. Plan Ahead to Touch
Rob Gardner, a retired engineer, was travelling to Greece and wanted – more than anything – to see the Parthenon. The only problem was that Rob’s completely blind, and the Parthenon sits behind a scaffold and fence where no tourist is allowed to enter.
So he wrote to his local Greek consulate, and they liaised with the Greek government and granted Rob special permission to cross the fence and stand inside the Parthenon, touch the stones, and walk where no tourist has walked for a hundred years.
Many museums and art galleries develop special tours for the blind, where objects from the collection can be touched. These have to be booked in advance, especially for famous museums like the Louvre and the British Museum.
If you want a unique experience over and above the average traveller, try one of these tours.
5. Inform and Educate About Blindness
I know that many people who are blind prefer to keep their disability private, and I totally respect and understand their reasons for this. Ignorant people treat us like we’re crippled, deaf, and / or stupid even though the only thing wrong with us is that our eyes don’t work properly.
I’ve heard horror stories of airlines forcing blind passengers to sit in wheelchairs while staff members push them between connecting flights. There are numerous cases of airlines rejecting blind passengers after they’re assumed to be a safety risk.
Despite the limitations placed on blind travellers – not by themselves, but by society – I always inform others about my disability. I tick the box at the airline saying ‘blind passenger‘ and the staff make extra certain I’m in the right place. When using public transport, someone will help me onto the correct train, and will often give me a discount.
In many areas of the world, a blind person walking the street is a rare sight. Be prepared for curious questions, and use your travels to educate others about disabilities.
Many people from poor areas do not understand how a westerner can still be blind – their neighbours wear glasses or have cataracts removed and their eyesight is cured. I’m always encouraged by friendly locals to try on their glasses. I smile and say thank you and try to explain that my condition is incurable.
Above all, being a blind traveller is all about seeing the world in your own way. Without sight, I’ll never have the same experiences as a normal traveller. But my experiences so far have been awesome, and any blind person can find their way in the world and create their own memorable travel stories.
At Seable we specialise in blind travel. We take care of the transport, accommodation and excursions, leaving you free to do the most important thing: enjoy your holiday. Click here to find out more about our holidays, or call us at +44(0) 207 749 4866.
“When you read the list of activities on a Seable holiday, it sounds like the script of a James Bond film:
An accessible tour of Agrigento. Right: Scuba is a great activity for people with disability, as they find that the weightlessness in the water frees them up.
scuba diving, jet-skiing, ascending Mt Etna… The participants aren’t your average action heroes, however. Everyone on a Seable trip has some kind of disability, either physical or sensory. And they come to Sicily for a holiday where their disability takes a back seat to pleasure seeking. Peter Warren, 81, from the UK suffers from macular degeneration and only has about five per cent of his vision left. From a balcony in Sicily, he says he is “having the best holiday of my life”. It’s the first time he’s been able to travel alone since he started to lose his sight. He says: “This holiday certainly raised my self-esteem because I know I can travel abroad… and feel as though I’m on my own.”
Seable Accessible Holidays is happy to announce that Fabriq, a new incubator for social innovation just opened in Milan and during their first workshop they mentioned Seable Holidays as an example of good practices and social inclusion. Antonio Tasso, journalist @ Startu-up Italia decided to get in touch with us and interviewed the founder: Damiano La Rocca. Here the translated version of the interview taken on the 14th of February 2014
To mark the beginning of a new year we have expanded our list of activities that you can enjoy on your accessible vacation with Seable. We are thrilled to announce our latest collaboration ‘Tenuta Del Gelso’. Now you can get to experience the process of farming, engage in the ‘orange plantation’ process, enjoy delectable wine tastings, and learn first-hand the agricultural secrets of the farmers of Sicily. (more…)
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