I am a planner. I love to plan things so much that I planned my own surprise birthday in September. Whether I’m a planner because I’ve lived my entire life with a disability and I have to be organised or whether I’m a planner because I’m a control freak and like being in charge, we’ll never know. Either way, I love a good plan so when when something goes wrong, not only does it upset the control freak inside, it highlights how poorly equipped the world is for people with physical disabilities.
In the last three months, three events have left me feeling either unsafe, incredibly anxious or that I might have to sleep in an empty train carriage in Heuston Station for the night, all because I am in a wheelchair and someone didn’t do their job properly.
The first was at Electric Picnic on an unattended disabled viewing platform that was dangerously overcrowded. The viewing platform is meant to be a safe space for disabled people if they are feeling overwhelmed with the crowds or just want a clear view of the stage. During Jenny Green’s set with the RTE Orchestra and their take on 90s dance hits, I was on my own and I counted about 50 people on an unguarded viewing platform made out of wooden boards on scaffolding that was designed to hold approximately 20 people. I told people that they were on a wheelchair platform and they shouldn’t be up here and all I got was a shrug in return.
Eventually, a friend of mine found me and he set off to find someone to manage the crowds. Altogether, it took us 45 minutes to find anyone with an authority to clear the platform. The biggest problem wasn’t the fact that it was overcrowded, it was that the people on it did not care when I clearly needed help.
The second involved one of my greatest enemies; the city of London. I had three hours to make the one-hour journey from Stoke Newington to London City Airport for my flight home to Dublin and every single one of those minutes ended up being so important. My bus journey from Stoke Newington to Bank Station went without a hitch but when I got to Bank, the DLR trains were only running as far as Canning Town but replacement buses were running from there to the airport. When I got to Canning Town, the lifts to the bus terminal were working but they weren’t in operation because no one was on duty to monitor them.
So my choices were to either go back two stations and get a bus right back to Canning Town to get a bus to the airport or miss my flight. An Irish couple who were on my flight offered to carry me down the stairs but this was not allowed because Transport for London workers were involved and I was now an insurance risk. Time wasn’t on my side so, along with one TFL worker, I went back two stations only to find that that bus wasn’t running. I now had 35 minutes to make it to the airport before my gate closed and if it wasn’t for a Uber driver called Blessing who put his foot to and floor, who got me to the airport 24 minutes before my gate closed or that Irish couple who stalled the queue in an attempt to give me more time, I would have been stranded in London for a night.
Then again last week, on my way home from an accessible tourism workshop I held in Galway city, I was the last person on the last carriage on one of the last trains into Heuston Station, without any staff member or ramp in sight. The train was stopped further down the tracks than normal and the lights were dimmed so I was in a scene from a 90s teen horror flick.
I stuck my head out the door and the only person I could see was the clamper man across the way in the car park. I shouted. I shouted again and again and all I could hear in return was my echo. I pressed the train’s emergency button but nothing happened. And then I tweeted. My responses gave me the emergency number for Heuston and, thankfully, Heuston’s very apologetic station manager Liam Donegan, answered my call and rescued me. For those 20 minutes on an empty train carriage, I was completely useless and all that was in my way was a step.
It all sounds very traumatic but I’ve been conditioned to accept this poor treatment. Why on earth should I accept the fact that if I get on a train, there’s a chance that I’ll be stranded simply because I’m disabled? When it comes to a lack of accessible disabled facilities, I’m sick of hearing that it’s a lack of money. I’m sick of hearing that buildings are protected. All I get is excuses and it’s sedating me.
Disabled people are being reduced every single day, whether it’s on a train line or at a music festival, and the ones with the power to change anything aren’t taking action. This isn’t an attack on Electric Picnic, TFL or Irish Rail, this is the way that society in general overlooks the needs of disabled people. Those workers are fed excuses to feed us. It’s systematic and every day, everywhere we go, we have to accept a different kind of treatment. A different tone in voice.
Our society has unfortunately been formed to place us forever in the ‘other’ category and we all play a part in it. No matter what level of planning we put into our day, if something goes wrong, we’re on our own and I’m tired of shouting for help.