Baroness Jane Campbell and Sian Vasey Discuss SPECTRUM CIL’s Disability Manifesto 2017

SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living was delighted to welcome Baroness Jane Campbell, a cross bench peer in the House of Lords and Sian Vasey, a Disabled film maker, to Southampton to discuss all things Independent Living related with our Chief Executive, Ian Loynes. They covered a wide range of topics from employment to welfare reform, not forgetting Brexit of course. You can watch highlights of their conversation below.

All of them agreed that none of the political parties were yet offering a comprehensive disability strategy that would enable Disabled People to enjoy true equality within society.

If you want to read the full manifesto, please visit our Disability Manifesto page.





Summary of ‘Disability Manifesto’ now available

With the General Election just a week away, many people are still deciding on who they are going to vote for. The election campaign has been dominated by issues such as social care and welfare reform, although sadly the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester has focused everyone’s minds on the issue of safety and security.

Our ‘Disability Manifesto’ which sets out what Disabled People would like political parties to commit to doing in the next Parliament, has been a great success. We are aware that it is a fairly long document so we have summarised the key commitments for each topic area into a short document so people can see at a glance what Disabled People want the political parties to sign up to.

We hope this summary document will be easier for some people to access. We will also be tweeting out the key commitments between now and the big day as well as releasing a video with some very special guests discussing our manifesto so keep an eye on our blog and Facebook page over the next few days.

If you want to read the full manifesto, please visit our Disability Manifesto page

Is there a role for Dial A Ride in a modern public transport system?

20130826-140847.jpgOne of the great things about SPECTRUM Centre for Independent Living is that we’re never afraid to address difficult issues and debate current thinking around inclusion and disability equality.

One example of this was a lunchtime discussion about the role of community transport, more specifically Dial A Ride, within the public transport system. Now as we all know, transport is a ‘hot’ issue for Disabled People. I don’t think I have ever been to a forum of Disabled People where the issue hasn’t arisen in one form or another.

At first glance, the Dial A Ride issue seems fairly cut and dry. Here at SPECTRUM , we believe that a fully accessible and inclusive public transport system is one of Disabled People’s 12 basic needs. If this was achieved then there would be no need for Dial A Ride and the world would be a happier place. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Despite decades of protests, lobbying and legalisation, across the UK, Disabled People still cannot access the majority of public transport.

That’s not to say, there hasn’t been improvements and certainly large urban areas such as London and Manchester have seen drastic improvements in accessibility. However in other areas, there has been much slower and piece meal improvements

One of the biggest issues, particularly when it comes to buses, is that no matter how modern and accessible the bus is, most Disabled People are reliant on the attitude of the bus drivers themselves. We have all experienced bus drivers who are reluctant to wait till a Disabled Person has found their seat before pulling off or a wheelchair user left stranded at the bus stop because the ramp is supposedly ‘broken’ or there’s just no room for the wheelchair.

These aren’t isolated cases. If you followed Channel Four News’ No Go Britain campaign last Summer, you will have seen some appalling public transport experiences across the whole transport system by Disabled People. Indeed recently a group of Disabled People took a major bus company to court over their discriminatory treatment. Unfortunately the Disabled People lost their case, but it illustrates the scale of the problem.

So, this brings us back to the issue of Dial A Ride. If the current bus system not fit for purpose, should councils be developing their Dial A Ride schemes to meet the undoubted need?

After a lively debate (and a few cul de sacs explored – it was lunch time after all), the general consensus was still that Dial A Ride schemes are not a long term solution to this problem. They may have a short term role in the interim, but there was a general feeling that Dial A Ride could end up letting the bus companies and the councils off the hook in regard to their equality duties.

Disabled People must continue to lobby for funding to be channeled into the general public transport system to improve accessibility rather than the money being siphoned off into a segregated service that is not only incredibly expensive to run but does nothing to achieve Disabled People’s right to a fully inclusive and accessible public transport system available to all.

Travelling in Southampton: Local options – (1) Taxis

From the “Diary of a public transport virgin”

All of my blogs so far have been about my far-flung travels. However, like most people most of my travelling needs are local. I live in Eastleigh, work in Southampton, and usually shop in Southampton as well. This blog is the first of several which detail my experiences of local public transport.

I am well versed with travelling by train or taxi. As I have said before, taxis in London are great – because all of them are accessible. However, my experiences with using taxis in Southampton are mixed to say the least.

I travel to work via taxi, on a pre-arranged private hire basis, and this works well. There are a number of wheelchair accessible taxis in Southampton; but sadly nowhere near enough. You see unless there is a critical mass of accessible taxis then it is impossible to be spontaneous or to have any confidence that you will be able to find an accessible taxi when you need one. For instance I might be able to get a taxi into town, but what if I could not get an accessible taxi home?

In Southampton this situation is the reality and whilst the City Council could (and should) ensure that all licensed taxis are wheelchair accessible; they don’t. Other towns do; but Southampton doesn’t. You see, unless all taxis are accessible, Disabled People won’t risk them through fear of being let down or stranded. It is a real shame as I believe that if they were all accessible, then Disabled People would be far more likely to use them and therefore generate more income to the taxi trade – a win-win as they say.

This daytime situation in Southampton is difficult enough; but it gets much more difficult at night, Bank Holidays and weekends. Many’s the time that I have rung half a dozen of the main taxi companies only to be told that none of the accessible taxis are on the road at that time. No one else has to book in advance, so why should I?

Even trying to book in advance is very difficult as some companies won’t take bookings for accessible taxis in advance because they say they don’t know if any will be available (presumably the drivers of these accessible taxis decide when they want to work, and the company cannot predict this in advance).

There are a number of specialist private hire taxi companies who run accessible taxis – so you can pre-book these, but not in any way spontaneously.

The worst problem in Southampton though is trying to get an accessible taxi during ‘school run’ times – all the accessible taxis are on ‘contract’ to transport students to school/college and it is virtually impossible to get a taxi during these times.

So, in Southampton, taxis are hit-and-miss to say the least. We have a stalemate situation – not enough accessible taxis for Disabled People to be confident enough to use spontaneously, and therefore to prove there is a demand; and until the powers-that-be can prove the demand there is not enough evidence to prove ‘the business case’.

But hang on, shouldn’t this be about rights? Until Southampton City Council decides that Disabled People should have the same rights to use taxis as everyone else; things will not improve, Disabled People will not travel via taxi and the taxi trade will not get our business – everyone is a looser.

It is a real shame as it could be completely different. Southampton City Council should look at those cities who have made the move to fully accessible taxi fleets. The city of Southampton is a generally very accessible city – but if you cannot get to it….. what is the point!

So, sadly I am almost never inclined to try using taxis in Southampton.

My equality score: 1 point.

Southampton to Worthing: Cars need not apply

The next thrilling instalment of Ian’s ‘Diary of A Public Transport Virgin’:

A while ago I was asked to speak at the AGM of the Independent Living Association (ILA), a ULO that is based in Worthing and covers West Sussex. As a founding member of SENPDO, SCIL is very keen to support other ULO’s in the South East, and in the process enable SCIL to learn from what they are doing.

I therefore accepted the invitation; the issue of how I might actually get there only cropped up in my mind closer to the actual event.

Remember – I can’t drive at the moment, and Worthing is far too far to ask someone to drive me to as a favour – so cars could not feature in how I might get to Worthing.

Now getting to Worthing isn’t difficult, I thought, I’ll just get the train. However, whilst the train is a safe bet, the issue is always how to actually get to the venue from the train station; not a problem in London where accessible taxis are the norm, but in an unfamiliar town, I have learnt from past experiences never to take the availability of accessible taxis for granted.

Two week before the event I read the email invite; the AGM venue was Worthing Leisure Centre sure enough, but I discovered that it wasn’t in Worthing as I had assumed (Hint: never assume anything!). The venue was in Durrington-on-Sea; no, I’ve never heard of it before either!

If I hadn’t heard of this place before, the chances were that getting to it via train might be a problem, and the prospect of accessible taxis would be an improbable dream – especially as I only had a few days to go before the AGM, so not much time to research availability, or come up with a plan B.

Just as I thought I’d got a real problem on my hands, I got lucky – very lucky; it turned out that Durrington-on-Sea did have an accessible train station, and the leisure centre was only about 400 metres from the train station – I would be able to get there from the train station in my wheelchair. How lucky am I!

I have one of these smart phones; one of the very few ‘apps’ that I find useful is “TheTrainline”. The App is much easier to use than their website, and it allows me to very easily find out the best way of getting a train from A to B, and with the least amount of train changes (I hate having to change trains and avoid the stress whenever possible). I normally use the App just to find out train times and the optimal route; however, you can also use TheTrainline App to book and pay for tickets. If you book ahead you can get some great discounts. Sadly at the moment you cannot use the App to book assistance onto the train, but you can input your Disabled Person’s Railcard number to get your discount.

For the first time I plucked up the courage to book my ticket via TheTrainline App; amazingly even though I only booked it about 10 days before the actual day, I managed to get a return ticket for just £9! – £9 for a journey from Southampton to Worthing (well, almost). After I had booked and paid for the ticket, all I had to do, it said, was to get the tickets from one of the automatic ticket machines at the train station.

So I turned up on the day at Southampton Central train station, to get my tickets from the machine, arrange assistance onto the train, and catch the Southern Railways train to Durrington-on-Sea.

I have never used an automatic ticket machine before, I always worry about getting my fingers into the little slots to get my credit card in and the train tickets out. It would be OK if I was travelling with a PA, but today I wasn’t. Anyway, low-and-behold, I couldn’t get my fingers into the slots, so I found a very helpful member of staff to help me, and it was actually very easy and she was not at all patronising as they sometimes are.

So with tickets in my hand, I went to platform 2, about 15 minutes before the train departed and booked the assistance there and then without any bother. Train companies say you should book assistance at least 24 hours in advance; which I almost never do for 2 reasons: ((1): Why should I? non-disabled passengers can just spontaneously jump on the train whenever they like – why should it be different for Disabled People?, and (2): I find it hard to be organised enough, let alone having to visit the train station a day in advance or ring them up). I find that most of the stations I use don’t get ‘jobs-worthy’ if you just turn up; they just put you on without a fuss – the way it should be.

The journey was fine, the accessible part of the carriage was OK, but a bit cramped if you were travelling with a PA or friends. And when it arrived at Durrington-on-Sea there was a man with a ramp waiting for me. (Even now I get nervous about whether or not someone will be there, even though 9 times out of 10 it is not problem – In fact I always ask the ticket guard to either ring ahead to check, or come to me when I need to get off, just in case!) .

So, I’d made it to Durrington-on-Sea without a hitch, in enough time to find a cafe and have a late breakfast before going onto the Worthing Leisure Centre for the AGM. WHAT A DUMP! Not an electric door to be seen, accessible toilets too small; the whole place badly needs a refurbishment (or a bulldozer!).ugh time to find a cafe and have a late breakfast before going onto the Worthing Leisure Cen

The ILA AGM was great, very user-led and, as I hoped, gave me several ideas for SCIL. I hope I also gave them a though provoking presentation.

The trains from Durrington-on-Sea to Southampton left only every 60 minutes, and as always at these events, it is hard to get away at the end, always lots to talk about to lots of people to talk to.

So inevitably I left it too late before I said my goodbyes and left. – In fact just 10 minutes before the train left, and remember, I had not booked assistance! (How on earth can I be expected to predict the return train when I don’t know which one I might need to catch?).

Now, Durrington-on-Sea is a small station, and whilst access to the station side was fine on the way in, the other platform was not accessible via road or via lift access. I was informed that I had to go up this narrow private walkway to get to it. This seemed easy when I was told, but with less than 10 minutes before the train left, this was not a good time to try and find the walkway for the first time, especially as there seemed to be no signage at all! – not one.

When I eventually found it, I only had 3 minutes to one, it was a long walkway and I resigned myself to missing this train and having to wait an hour for the next one.

Literally, just as I rounded the corner onto the platform, the train was coming to a halt. I felt it highly unlikely they would be able to put me on at zero notice (even I would have accepted this was not a reasonable request!).

However, as the train doors opened, the guard stepped onto the platform, I asked if there was any chance; and without a single complaint, or even a huff or a puff, he just got the ramp and put me on. He was fantastic, the train was packed, and yet he gently got everyone to move so I could get to the wheelchair space. I felt guilty at expecting him to do this at zero notice, but was so grateful that he took it all in his stride.

And that was it really, the same guard got me off at Southampton Central and I just had to get a taxi home from there.

For those that don’t know, Southampton’s accessible taxi policy is hit and miss to say the least, and it can be very difficult to try and spontaneously book a taxi; but the rank at Southampton Central normally has at least one accessible white cab taxi on it (during office hours anyway).

So there we are; the journey from Southampton to Durrington-on-Sea went (almost) without a hitch; and the customer service at both ends was second to none. Highly recommended (oh, but take my advice – give the leisure centre a miss!)

My equality score: 5 points

DAN – Disabled People’s Direct Action Network

Written by Ian Loynes

Whilst there are still significant shortcomings (particularly on the Tube), London is generally a great example of how a public transport system can meet the access needs of most people, including most Disabled People. However, this has not always been the case.

For this we, as Disabled People, should be very grateful indeed, I believe, to DAN (Disabled People’s Direct Action Network) who I referred to in my last blog entry.

It was DAN in the 1990’s who were prepared to undertake risky ‘actions’ to highlight just how inaccessible public transport was – particularly in our Capital City. Many people were uncertain at the wisdom of Disabled People handcuffing themselves to buses and trains and laying under wheels. Apart from the obvious risks, there was concern that by inconveniencing the general public we might lose their support. (DAN often ensured the public could not use the bus/train, saying ‘Now you know what it feels like’ – wearing T-Shirts saying “To boldly go where all others have gone before”!).

However, these high profile actions attracted the media like flies around a honey-pot. I believe that the work of DAN directly led to a political understanding that public transport SHOULD be accessible to Disabled People; an acceptance that we could not be fobbed off with segregated and often patronising, Dial-a-Ride schemes any more.

I went to one of their London actions in the 1990’s, it was a great and empowering experience, sadly on the way home I crashed my car, one of three crashes in three weeks! – but that really IS another story!

The fact that all London taxis and London buses are now wheelchair accessible is, I believe, a direct result for the work of DAN and similar groups. Of cause, the politicians and transport providers will say that these campaigns and actions had no effect, but I think we know different! DAN was never a massive organisation; it just goes to show that campaigns can be successful with relatively small groups of people. DAN showed that a well informed, media savvy campaign can achieve amazing successes.

London Underground still has a long way to go, before all their stations are wheelchair accessible. Some are, but many are still not. It is getting better, but in my opinion, being a little bit accessible is no good, and makes it difficult to see the underground as something I would use routinely through fear of going somewhere only to arrive at an inaccessible destination.

DAN did much, not just in London and not just about public transport.

I believe Disabled People owe a debt of thanks to DAN.

Bank Holiday fun in London: Taxi 0, Tube/DLR 1

‘Diary of A Public Transport Virgin’ continues…. written by Ian Loynes

You know what it’s like when something happens to you, which initially doesn’t seem a big deal; then after a while it dawns on you just how massive the implications are?

Well I had several of those in the immediate aftermath of my seizure, especially being told that driving was off the menu.  However, after a while the penny dropped on another biggie – I wouldn’t be able to drive up to Norfolk to see my friends and family; my heart sank, particularly as I was desperate to get up there to see one of my closest friends.

We’ve known each other for over 30 years, both having been through a lot of life, you know the story; things you shouldn’t have to experience. We were close friends when I lived in Norfolk, and have managed to pull off the fantastic trick of staying close when I moved to Southampton and we were living 200 miles apart.

Anyway, to get back to the point; we had a dilemma, wanting to see each other, but neither of us able to drive a car. We agreed that the best way we could actually get to see each other by each getting a train and meeting in the middle, London.

The date was set: Bank holiday Monday, and venue: the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. I was pleased because I’d never been there before and I am very interested in astronomy.

(Let’s be clear here though, my interest is in the science of astronomy, not in looking through binoculars at seemingly identical spots of light or patterns of stars. I love watching Patrick Moore and ‘The Sky at Night’ – he is a fabulously eccentric character. The show is really good at making astronomy easy to understand yet without ‘dumbing down’ (which really aggravates me [Step forward ‘Horizon’, a once amazing science programme, now an absolutely patronising travesty]).  However, in my opinion, ‘The Sky at Night’ is half great, half a yawn – as they always spend half the show going on about this or that constellation which is now visible in the night sky, and how to find it. It’s such a waste to me, especially with the show only being 20 minutes long to start with!)

Sorry, again; to get back to my blog: (by the minute, sounding more and more like a Ronnie Corbett Monologue!)

So, we’d agreed to meet at Greenwich, how should I get there?

Getting to London is easy, something I do regularly for work.

The train company is: South West Trains, travelling from Southampton Parkway Station to London Waterloo station.

All train companies expect passengers to book 24 hours in advance if they need assistance onto the train. I almost never do this, as I find it hard to plan my life so precisely in advance (and anyway, everyone else can just turn up and get on a train without notice, so why should it be different for a wheelchair user? – I like to be spontaneous and often it just is not possible to know what time you will be coming home). Nine times out of ten, I just turn up at the station and ask for assistance on to the next available train. The stations I use (Southampton Central, Southampton Parkway and London Waterloo) are very good about this and cope with my turning up unannounced. The process for getting on the train for wheelchair users is very easy, the assistant just takes you to the right point on the platform (there are several designated wheelchair spaces on every South West Train), puts down a portable ramp and, up you go into one of the wheelchair spaces. When you get to your destination, the person who put you on will have radioed ahead so that an assistant is ready to ramp you off when you get there. This system is not foolproof, and I prefer to travel with someone just in case no ramp is ready when I get to my destination.

Whilst not perfect, South West Trains are in my experience the best when it comes to wheelchair access, there being space for two wheelchair users to sit next to each other, and seats for a PA/friends to be with you as well. This cannot be said for all train companies. The only downside is that there are no wheelchair user spaces in First Class!

NB: I will post a separate blog soon with more information about booking assistance onto trains; and some of the issues to be careful about. I will also post a separate blog about the pros and cons of a Disabled Person’s Railcard and the separate scheme for Personal Assistants to travel at reduced cost.

Once you get to London, there are various ways to get from Waterloo to Greenwich; London Taxi, London Bus or Tube/DLR (Docklands Light Railway). All these should be accessible to me and my wheelchair. I use London taxis all the time whilst at work, and have used the Underground/DLR and London bus once. Which one should I choose?

London Taxi is a safe option – all London Taxis have to be wheelchair accessible, newer ones have fold out ramps with extensions for steep angles. Older taxis have gutter ramps which are kept in the boot. Now-a-days, I never have a problem with London Taxis, except for some drivers who don’t seems to understand that wheelchairs don’t cope well if the ramp angle is too steep. I always ask the driver to stop alongside a kerb to reduce the ramps angle.

London Buses are a bit of an unknown quantity to me. I believe that all London buses have to be wheelchair accessible these days. I have only used them once, last year. Sadly I don’t know the routes very well; I suspected that getting from Waterloo to Greenwich would involve changing buses along the way. I’d welcome comments from readers about London buses and how a visitor to London can get the best out of them.

Tube/DLR is also mostly an unknown quantity to me. I have used the Tube before, when I was walking and could use escalators. Once I sussed out the maps, the Tube was fairly easy; but as I said, I was walking then. Since I started using a wheelchair, I have only used the Tube once, to get from Waterloo to the Millennium Dome (now the O2 arena). From what I understand, some of the Tube is wheelchair accessible; some is not. Albeit the situation is improving as time goes on. I looked on the Internet for help on access and found the following link useful: From my research it was possible to get from Waterloo to Greenwich, by catching the Tube at Waterloo and swapping to the DLR at Canary Wharf. (So far as I know, the whole of the DLR is wheelchair accessible throughout – readers comments would be helpful here too)

So, which public transport option did I take? Basically, I wimped out and got a taxi to Greenwich. I wish though I hadn’t; it was easy and stress free, until I saw the cost: £26! (Bank Holiday supplement didn’t help).

My friend met me at the Observatory, after a slight mix up where she went to Waterloo to pick me up, only to find I’d left in the taxi before she got there!

I had a lovely day at Greenwich Observatory, a great day out, good for children especially as it is fun as well as educational. From the top of the hill we could see the site of the 2012 Olympics and Canary Wharf amongst other attractions. (Bear in mind though, it is a steep hill and a long hill – my battery was not happy when I got to the top, and my friends legs were knackered – good excuse for a tea and hot dog!). Greenwich Park is a lovely place; tranquillity in a massive metropolis. Afterwards we went to see the Cutty Sark, but couldn’t see anything as it was all boarded up after the horrible fire which did so much damage in 2007.

When it was time to head off home, I had a dilemma; I wasn’t keen on a £26 taxi trip back (didn’t have that much cash apart from anything!); but whilst I knew the DLR/Tube should be OK, I wasn’t keen on going on my own. Good on my friend, we agreed to get the DLR together to Canary Wharf, and she would see me off the DLR and on to the Tube, before going her own way to Liverpool Street and back to Norfolk.

Now, here’s the rub, the ticket from Greenwich to Waterloo was £2.50!  I’d paid 10 times more than necessary, simply because I wimped out and jumped in a taxi.

The DLR was fine for access, just had to be a little careful to ensure my front wheels didn’t get jammed in the small gap between platform and train. Wheelchair users do end up by the door, as there are no wheelchair spaces, but not too much of a problem.

When we got to Canary Wharf there is a short walk from the DLR to the Tube station, and once again the access was fine, just go to the right platform, wait for the train, and, of course MIND THE GAP!

When I arrived at Waterloo Tube station,again just a short walk to get to the mainline station. All very easy really, my wimpiness was completely unjustified and I do recommend the Tube/DLR (but just be careful about which stations are accessible and bear in mind slight height differences between some trains and some platforms ).

When I got back to Waterloo, I just went to the Information Kiosk on the main platform and asked for assistance onto the next train to Southampton, and as usual, had easy and practical assistance onto the train. One hour and 10 minutes later, the train arrives back at Southampton Parkway station, and after the usual nerves I always have in case no ramp is ready when the train stops, the assistant was there with his ramp to get me off the train.

So, my experience of getting to and from London, and around and about in London was good. Transport for London (  – Full of information about public transport in London ) should be praised for the immense progress they have made since the mid 1990’s when Disabled People had to resort to handcuffing themselves to buses to highlight just how excluded they were from London’s transport system.

See my separate blog shortly about DAN –Disabled People’s Direct Action Network

London is our Capital City, and therefore should set the standard for accessibility, and generally it does. Almost every other city in the UK has much to learn from London. Just getting an accessible taxi or bus can be a major undertaking in some cities.

Whilst there are still significant shortcomings (particularly on the Tube), I think London is generally a great example of how a public transport system can meet the access needs of most people, including most Disabled People.

So, a long and lovely Bank Holiday came to an end without any real access problems at all. I was just £23.50 worse off than I needed to be!

My equality score: 4 stars