Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson interview

I hope this interview with, Tanni Grey-Thompson, helps highlight, the difficulties disabled people can encounter while traveling.

Before I ask the questions, I will just tell you a little about myself.
My name is Robert West, I am 25 years old, I have Cerebral Palsy, use an electric wheelchair when out of the house. I work in a school, really enjoy my job, feel my experiences help me relate to students. I am a big fans of sports, although I struggle to participate, I will give most things a go.
I am currently going through the process of getting a motability car, public transport is not an option in the rural area I live.

Which leads me to the subject, of public transport.

RW: I notice from following you on twitter, you often use trains. I was wondering how easy do you find using a train, as a wheelchair user? Do you find you are able to be spontaneous, or do you have to book ahead?

TGT: I think that it is hard to be spontaneous if you are a wheelchair user – you can try it but you can’t guarantee that you will be able to get on and off the trains that you want to.  I try to book ahead but this is not always possible as I don’t always know which train I am going to be on.  I do try to book as you should get a better service, and it takes less explaining at the train station, but it doesn’t always work.  I find it hard when you are using the trains and the toilets are out of order, which does happen, or they leave you on.  This is much more likely if you are travelling to a station where the train terminates (like Kings Cross) as there is less of a rush to get you off.  I do find that the people are generally quite helpful, but it can be a hassle

RW: When using the trains, how helpful do you find the staff? Are they understanding of your needs, patronising, or dare I say, not organised?

TGT: I sort of answered this above.  Most of the staff are OK.  There are one or two who make it more challenging.   I like to get off the train on my own and when there is someone new they get a bit grumpy if you say you can do it on your own.  I know that they have been trained to get people off, but they should ask what you would prefer

RW: When on a train, do you find you are able to access all facilities, for example the toilets, catering etc?

TGT: Most of the time the toilets are OK, but I have travelled when they are out of order or there is not a wheelchair accessible toilet by the wheelchair space.  This is the worst.  Before now, I have had to transfer to the toilet by sitting on the floor which is vile, but I had to go !!  Rarely can you get to the buffet….  most of the time the staff do come and ask me would I like anything, and before now, members of the public have realised that I couldn’t there and come and asked me

RW: When you competed in the Paralympics and World Championships, you were catching flights all around the world. How did you find Airlines managed looking after your chair? Were they respectful of your equipment?

TGT: I had some good experiences flying (and still do) and some awful ones.  I have had my chairs lost, destroyed, and mis placed… It is really frustrating.  They generally try to provide a good service, but don’t always ask the passenger what they want or need.  I find that airlines can be patronising or will try and talk to my husband and not me.  He is great with how he deals with it

RW: When passing through security and had to be patted down, did you ever feel uncomfortable?

TGT: I don’t mind being patted down – I don’t mind the security. However there are different ways of doing it. Going through Paris a while ago I did feel a bit like I was being a bit manhandled, as the woman who was doing it (there were two present) had to check the under wiring on my bra !!!

RW: Do you feel there is more that could be done, to save a disabled persons dignity, when passing through security?

TGT: In some countries, like Switzerland, they take you to a booth which is better

RW: Have you tried to use public buses? If so, how do you find the attitude of both the driver and passengers when, there is a slight delay getting you on?

TGT: I do use buses in London as they are all accessible.  A bit of a mix really.  Most are OK.  I think the hardest thing, when you are not used to travelling by bus, is getting used to reading the timetables.   

RW: What do you think can be done, to bring disabled people to the forefront of companies thoughts, when designing their transport and in their customer service?

TGT: I think that they staff training could be better.  Sometimes some bus drivers won’t let you on if there is a buggy on, and there is space !!  Just to be a bit friendlier if they are telling you there is no room on the bus !

RW: Do you have any advice for disabled people, who wish to use public transport?

TGT: I think you have to plan more, and think ahead, but I think it is a good way to travel.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  What I would also say is that you have to learn to stand up for yourself which is not a bad thing.

I would like to thank Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson for agreeing to answer these questions, on a subject I feel is very important to many disabled people.

You can follow Tanni @Tanni_GT .

  1. Matt Jones
    August 22, 2011 at 19:44

    Wow,I’m sure that was an experience and an honour? I work for the railway so was interested to read a generally ok opinion on train travel.

  2. August 23, 2011 at 17:17

    Nice interview. I’ve never really thought much about how difficult it would be to travel with a disability. Thanks for getting me thinking about it.

    I know the buses where I live (Springfield, MA) allow the front seats to flip up for chair users. It’s all done pretty quickly, under a minute, so it seems like a pretty streamlined system.

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