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.