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Monday, 18 July 2016


Using the train can be a huge step for people who live with disabilities. Trains can be noisy, crowded and difficult to step onto. This poses a barrier for people with a huge range of medical conditions and disabilities.

I have recently started to make local journeys on the train in my wheelchair. The assistance service has been completely wonderful. The station operators are always happy to help me; they get out the ramp and assist me with getting onto the train. Most importantly, they don't make me feel as though I'm in any way a nuisance. This matters a great deal to me because so often I feel like my disability gets in the way.

Before I needed assistance commuting, I used to wonder how wheelchair users travelled by train. I have outlined below the assistance that is available to commuters for local journeys. Long journeys, especially those involving changes of train, are slightly more complicated.

Commuters can book assistance up to 24 hours before the journey they wish to make. If a commuter books assistance, a member of station staff meets them at the station and gets the ramp out for them. The staff member also helps them with any luggage they have.

I was worried that having to book assistance in advance would limit me. However, I have discovered that the station staff and guards are more than accommodating when I haven't booked assistance for local journeys. This means that I have the freedom to make spontaneous decisions and have flexible travel arrangements. On the other hand, it is really important to book assistance for longer journeys as there is limited wheelchair space and the station staff need to know in advance that assistance is required for changes of train.

During the train journey, the guard checks at what station the commuter wishes to disembark. On some trains the guard operates the doors from the same carriage as the wheelchair space so is on hand to help those in need of assistance. On other trains, the guard comes to assist the individual after opening the doors. This means that the train never leaves the commuter's station without them disembarking (one of my biggest travel related fears!).

At the destination, another member of station staff or the train guard positions the ramp so that the commuter can disembark. If the commuter is changing trains, the staff member helps transport their luggage to the next train.

 We typically think of wheelchair users as those who need help on trains, but assistance is used by individuals with a wide variety of needs. For example, someone with limited mobility may be unable to step up onto the train so require a ramp even though they aren't using a wheelchair. Some individuals aren't strong enough to pull their suitcase so require help with that. Also, individuals affected by blindness sometimes need assistance safely navigating the platform and stepping over the gap between the train and the platform edge.

The train is a brilliant transport resource for people living with disabilities. Trains help people to travel independently so it is great that good assistance is provided on the train.

Friday, 20 May 2016

An Adventure…?

Before I became unwell, I loved going for long walks through the countryside. Another favourite was cycle rides along canal paths. I miss those days so I quite often go along the canal path in my wheelchair.

One of the things that I find interesting is the way that other people react to a wheelchair being used somewhere other than a roadside pavement.

Yesterday I went along the canal path and a man walking in the other direction stopped me. "Out for an adventure, are we? "He said.

I smiled back and answered, "Yep!"

It was interesting because he was clearly surprised to see a wheelchair on the canal path. He was being friendly but I still got the feeling that I shouldn't have been on the canal path in my wheelchair. Often when I'm in public spaces I feel like my wheelchair is in the way and that society expects wheelchair users to stay at home. It can be very difficult for people living with disabilities to go out when they constantly receive subliminal messages that disabilities aren't compatible with our society. This is magnified for people who are affected by social anxiety. How would you feel if every time you tried to leave the house, something told you that nobody wanted you to go out?

The man who spoke to me didn't intend to upset me. This post is not a criticism of him. This example illustrates a wider view prevalent in our society that needs to change. I'm a wheelchair user but I love the countryside. That isn't weird. I have every right to roll along canal paths. So does every other person living with disabilities.

#ProjectLetMeIn #LetMeIn #DisabilityAwareness

Saturday, 14 May 2016

A Trip Around Aireville Park

Aireville Park, Skipton, is located a few minutes from my house. Visiting the park on sunny days is one of my favourite things to do. Aireville Park is mostly wheelchair friendly which is brilliant.

The top entrance to Aireville Park is just about wheelchair accessible. There is no dropped curb but I can get onto the pavement by going up a lowered section of concrete designed to let cars into the park.

No dropped curb!

Once in the park, the paths are wide and smooth which is perfect for wheelchairs (and bikes and scooters!). However, one of the paths ends at a zebra crossing across a small road. One side of the zebra crossing has a dropped curb but the other side doesn't. This means that wheelchair users have to travel a few meters along the road.

The zebra crossing with only one dropped curb.

The road isn't busy and the cars drive very slowly, but it is a shame because a dropped curb could so easily have been put in at the other side of the crossing. One of the things that most frustrates me when I'm out and about is the lack of joined up thinking applied to dropped curbs. If there is a dropped curb one side of the road, there needs to be a dropped curb at the other side too. Otherwise, how are wheelchair users and others who can't step up a curb supposed to cross the road?

Aireville Park has speed bumps along the main path. These speed bumps are flattened off at one end which makes it much easier to get wheelchairs and pushchairs over them. I think that this feature is wonderful because it makes the park so much more accessible whilst still slowing cars that drive through the park. Consequently, the park is safe and open for everyone.

A partially flattened speed bump.

The bottom entrance to Aireville Park is completely wheelchair accessible. There is a small gate to get through but this is nearly always left open which makes access so much easier.

There are also a lot of benches in the park which is fantastic for people with limited mobility who need to take frequent rests.

Aireville Park is a great place for a trip out. It is one of the most wheelchair friendly places in Skipton, which is great because I love it there!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Letter to the Council RE Disabled Access and Planning Permission

I have written a letter to Craven District Council asking whether the views of people living with disabilities are taken into account when planning applications are considered.
Dear Mr. Smirthwaite,

RE: Disabled Access in Craven

A new [shop*] has opened at [address]. I was disappointed to discover that despite the council giving planning permission for a change of use and extensive work being done to the building, the venue is not wheelchair accessible.

Given the extent of the building work taking place, I am curious to know why there was no requirement for the venue to be wheelchair accessible. Not requiring disabled access sends the message that people living with disabilities do not matter. Does the council believe that wheelchair users are not interested in [the service that this shop provides]?

This example led me to wonder to what extent the council takes into account the views of those living with disabilities when reviewing planning applications. I would be very interested to meet with someone from the council to discuss this matter.

People living with disabilities deserve equal access to venues in Craven. I appreciate that it is not always possible to provide disabled access. However, every measure should be taken to ensure that equal access is provided wherever possible.

Yours faithfully,

Sophie Thomas

I have removed the name of an independent business from the public version of this letter. This letter is designed to raise questions regarding council policy when considering planning applications. Let Me In! is not aimed at victimising small businesses.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Let Me In!

One of the most challenging aspects of living with a disability is the isolation that comes with it. Having a disability makes it harder to go places and do things due to the limits of your condition. However, the isolation is made worse by the inaccessibility of many public places.

There are a wide range of conditions that make accessing facilities difficult. Many places aren't suitable for people affected by conditions like autism that causes sensory overload. Every person living with disability counts and deserves equal access to public places. This campaign will seek to help people affected by the whole spectrum of conditions.

Lots of venues are "wheelchair accessible". Sometimes this means that there is an easy to use ramp, a large disabled toilet near the entrance and lifts. This is fantastic and it is great to see venues adapting themselves to be inclusive. Sadly, in some cases, wheelchair accessible means a ramp that was added as an after thought, a disabled toilet right at the back and no lift. This sends the message that people living with disabilities don't matter and don't deserve the same access to places as non disabled people. People living with disabilities should have equal access to facilities and equal value in society.

Let Me In! seeks to obtain equal access for people living with disabilities. Together we can make a difference. Watch this space; together we can ask councils and businesses to Let Me In!