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When the government revealed their intentions to shut down ticket counters at train stations nationwide, it seemed like yet another blow to those with disabilities. In addition to the ongoing issue of inaccessible boarding platforms at UK stations, the mistreatment of disabled passengers often resulting in being stranded, and the exorbitant prices that leave us all perplexed, the closure of ticket offices would further jeopardize the safety of disabled individuals traveling by train. However, thanks to the efforts of disability activists and organizations, the government made a sudden reversal in their decision.
Leanna Benjamin, a disability activist, writer, and performer, expressed her immense joy and relief upon hearing the news. She believes that this decision will greatly benefit disabled passengers and improve their experience when traveling by train.
In 2022, news of plans to shut down ticket offices was first revealed to the public. From that time, various groups and individuals including Scope, WheelPower, and Mencap have been actively advocating for the government to reconsider this decision. Despite initial claims that closing ticket offices would enhance accessibility, there has been no evidence to support this and the fight continues.
Closing ticket offices would have a significant impact on all individuals. What occurs when electronic ticket machines malfunction, as they frequently do? Or when your card is not accepted? Or when an entitled individual believes they can cross live tracks to harass a woman, as shown in a viral video last month? As a disabled woman, this incident particularly frightened me since I would not have been able to escape from danger. When confronted with the possibility of unstaffed ticket offices, it was a natural instinct for many disabled individuals to advocate for change.
“When faced with accessibility obstacles, such as malfunctioning screens, individuals who are deaf, like myself, must depend on announcements that are often difficult to hear,” explains Samantha Baines, a comedian and actor who frequently travels by train for work. “Ticket machines are not equipped to provide the necessary information for me. Therefore, having station staff who are trained in disability awareness is crucial for the deaf and disabled community.”
The reason for the closures was to cut costs, which is not unexpected. The idea to close came from rail companies as a result of the government’s request for them to balance their finances amidst ongoing financial losses due to shifts in travel patterns after the pandemic. The consultation received a record-breaking 750,000 responses regarding the proposed changes, making it the largest response to a consultation in British history.
Alongside the RMT, headed up by Mick Lynch, many disability charities took the lead on campaigning. Transport For All, an indomitable force for good in the disability space, jumped into action and created a series of easy ways for individuals to voice their thoughts against closures to parliament, something which ultimately led to the astonishing U-turn.
Katie Pennick, the manager of campaigns at Transport for All, states that although the disabled community is proud of their determination in achieving this significant campaign success, the result is a mixture of joy and sadness. The harmful and prejudicial suggestions should have never been presented.
After facing legal battles, public criticism, opposition from different political parties, and a decision from a regulatory agency, the Department for Transport finally decided to retract its support for the closures. However, it is unacceptable that the government ignored the concerns of disabled individuals for such a prolonged period of time.
When discussing the win, Tim Farron, a member of the Liberal Democrat party, reiterated Pennick’s sentiments, stating that disability accommodations have often been neglected in the planning of public transportation.
“Numerous train stations are currently not accessible for individuals with mobility impairments, and this needs to be addressed. This is the reason why I proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up [and Regeneration] Bill last year, which would have required the transportation secretary to ensure that railway stations meet national accessibility guidelines. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected by Conservative MPs.”
Although it may seem unbelievable that ticket office closures have not occurred this week, next week disabled activists and their allies will resume advocating for their right to travel. This relentless cycle of fighting for their rights continues.
“The U-turn signifies the optimal result, but it is not a progression. Instead, we have opposed the situation from deteriorating further,” Pennick states.
There are still several challenges to address in this area. Despite some areas successfully implementing level boarding, many smaller and rural locations still struggle with limited accessibility. As an example, in my town of Stowmarket in Suffolk, I have to find complex routes to reach the train station due to the lack of step-free access. This issue is multiplied by the hundreds of stations across the country, leaving thousands of disabled individuals facing daily stress and isolation.
Despite grand plans for the 2012 London Paralympics and Olympics, even London is struggling with accessible stations: currently, only a third of London Underground stations are accessible to those with mobility needs. While the manned ticket offices are a step forward, the accessibility fight goes on.
Disabled individuals advocate for various issues, such as transportation accessibility. There are numerous other concerns they fight for, such as access to benefits and DWP changes, extensive waiting lists for NHS services, and adequate representation in media. Living with a disability is tiring, and we are increasingly dependent on our allies.
Despite the overwhelming amount of work remaining, it is crucial to recognize the successful efforts made in the recent U-turn and appreciate the strength of the disability community in the UK.
Due to the diligent efforts of all individuals involved, individuals with disabilities will soon feel a sense of enhanced security at stations nationwide, and potentially have a smoother experience as a result.
When I next go on a trip, I will greet the ticket office workers in solidarity and remember that these significant campaigns can bring about positive change – the hard work is worth it. However, I cannot ignore the fact that I will also be cautious and worried about what actions the government will take next to make traveling even more challenging for individuals with disabilities.
The source of this information is the independent website, independent.co.uk, which focuses on health-related topics.