Hidden Disabilities

Greater Anglia has introduced ‘Offer Me A Seat’ badges after the concept got thousands of comments of support on social media, and Twitter and Facebook users gave their opinions and comments leading to the idea of three badges, now accessible to those who may require a seat, but may not feel confident enough to ask.

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One of the badges says ‘Not all disabilities are visible. Please offer me a seat.’ Another option says ‘Please offer me a seat. My need may not be visible.’

A third badge is for railway personnel to wear, which says ‘Not all disabilities are visible. Can I help you?’

The badges are now available from customer information desks at Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford, Shenfield, London Liverpool Street, Harlow Town and Cambridge stations and via Customer Relations, and if someone is in a wheelchair or has a white cane or guide dog, it’s evident to everyone they may require a little help when travelling on the railway.

But, not all disabilities or conditions are visible, such as MS, arthritis or early stages of pregnancy and not everyone feels comfortable or confident to request help if their condition is not visible, and the idea behind the badges is to make it easier for customers who need assistance to get help.

Staff do strive to do their best to give the customers the assistance they require but the badges will make it easier to distinguish people who want their help, and if passengers see someone wearing one of the new badges, it’s hoped they will offer to give up their seat if the train is busy.

Hopefully, this will be spread out over the entire network of travel, including buses and underground stations. Of course, pregnancy is not a disability, but its simply nice for someone to give up their seat for a pregnant lady, and in the initial stages of pregnancy, many women feel exhausted and really nauseous on their way to work.

Of course, pregnancy is a choice, not a disability, but as human beings, we should be generous enough to give up our seats, particularly those seats next to the toilets.

A disability may not be visible but that doesn’t mean that person is not disabled, not everything is visible in life, but as human beings, we should at least put ourselves forward to be sensitive to a person’s disability, and just because we can’t see COPD or Cancer does not mean they’re not disabled.

Sadly there will still be some people who will not give up their seats even if these people do have badges, but then this is an example of what’s wrong with our society.

If someone suffers from profound deafness, which is not visible, does that mean they’re not disabled? If a person suffers from Epilepsy, MS, ME or the early stages of Multiple Sclerosis, does this mean they’re not disabled?

All these things are hard to determine as disabilities, and just by looking at a person you would have no idea, that’s what the idea of these badges are for, although there are no checks done when a person requires one of these badges so there’s no guarantee of misapplication.

And studies have determined that those with hidden disabilities and infirmities, or those undergoing treatments, can frequently find it challenging to get a seat when they need one.

The new badges were tested by more than 1,200 people, with the preponderance reporting easier journeys and feeling more confident asking for a seat, and a badge and card will help make a substantial difference to the lives of people undergoing drug therapy or with longer-term conditions or disabilities.

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When it is launched, the Transport for London (TfL) will become the leading European transport provider to officially identify invisible impairments and conditions in such a way, and thorough analysis of the findings of the trial is to be completed before the badge and card are implement in the United Kingdom in the spring.

It’s a little before 8 am at Kings Cross St. Pancras underground station, and rush hour is in full, turbulent flow. With over 90 million travellers joining or exiting the interchange each year, Kings Cross is second only to Waterloo as the Tube network’s busiest station.

As po-faced passengers flow through the barriers in their hundreds and thousands, towards carriages travelling all over the capital, and wherever they’re going, of course, most won’t get anywhere near to a seat. It’s a fate they’re begrudgingly resigned to, but James McNaught has a trick up his sleeve. Or rather, attached to his lapel.

James McNaught was one of 1,000 volunteers embarking on a six-week trial, which officially began on the Transport for London’s new ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges.

Bright blue and impossibly polite, the pins are meant to inform other travellers that the wearer has a hidden infirmity, illness or injury which makes it hard for them to stand for the duration of a Tube or bus journey.

James McNaught, who regularly travels from his home in Camden to Westminster, where he works as a white tie-wearing doorman at the House of Lords, was one of the first to sign up.

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The 46-year-old made headlines for his homemade ‘cancer on board’ badges, created following treatment for throat cancer made it near-impossible for him to vocalise his need for a rest on the underground, especially since regular morphine doses gave him the impression of being drunk.

James McNaught’s personal campaign was a success, so he sees no reason TFL’s comprehensive, catch-all version shouldn’t be correspondingly effective.

Sometimes it actually isn’t visible to other patrons that you may have something wrong with you, and people could find it pretty awkward to have to disclose their medical problem to a stranger on a train.

His cancer badges worked almost every time, and the feedback was incredible, and these could help an awful lot of people get around without having to suffer, and despite improvement, the public transport in London and around the capital isn’t an easy thing to navigate for anyone in less than perfect health.

More and more stations have wheelchair access, and there are assigned priority seats on each tube carriage for the pregnant, elderly and infirm, but on a hot, packed rush hour journey, these stratagems are not enough.

Most disabled people with or without an invisible illness want access so that they can get about in London or to just be able to visit London for the day, but there are not enough lifts at the stations. London Transport has made stations a little more accessible in regards to lifts, but there are still not enough to get around London.

As a disabled user myself, if I want to travel to London I have to take somebody with me because I cannot access all the stations because there are not enough lifts on the underground, and frequently I have to use the bus which can take hours, and after my son walking me all the way around London we finished up in Tottenham Court Road for dinner, but even though there are lifts at Tottenham Court Road we would have had to change at Bank tube station where there is only a lift on the DLR which wasn’t the part that we needed, so we had to get a bus from there to Finsbury Park, and then from there another bus to Algate to get home, which ended up taking us two hours.

It’s a fabulous idea giving out badges to people with disabilities but if there are not enough lifts to accommodate then how are they suppose to access parts of the interface without lifts?

London’s Tube system is not currently anything like fully accessible to wheelchair users or people with mobility problems. Transport for London (TfL) offers various excuses for the lack of accessibility provision on the Tube.

 

But as the Crossrail project has shown, engineering solutions to a broad array of problems can be discovered and executed in the most challenging of situations.

TfL maintains that around a quarter of Tube stations have step-free access. That amounts to around 67 out of 270 stations (compare this with Berlin’s 100 out of 173 stations). But in Zone 1 there are just nine stations with step-free access from street to platform, and of these only four stations are step-free from the street to all trains running through those stations.

This means that a wheelchair user who wants to get around London is pretty unlikely to find the Tube at all useful, particularly if the journey involves Zone 1, or if lifts are out of order, which is often the case. Instead, wheelchair users rely massively on buses to get around.

There are several good points about accessibility on the Tube. Staff are well-trained and usually accommodating and helpful. There have been some developments in the last couple of years, including more lifts, more raised sections on platforms allowing step-free access from the platform onto the train, and the provision of manual boarding ramps at some stations. But these developments are proceeding at a snail’s pace and still leave three-quarters of the Tube interface totally inaccessible.

TfL maintains that each bus is accessible, and indeed all buses are furnished with wheelchair ramps. But there are still several problems for wheelchair users attempting to use buses, with unhelpful drivers, defective or unusable ramps, and baby-buggies obstructing the wheelchair space.

Even if the bus flotilla were as thoroughly accessible as TfL would like us to believe, it still typically takes about twice as long to get anywhere by bus (and often even longer) compared with the comparable tube journey, so why are wheelchair users excluded from the Tube system, and made to undertake lengthy, complex and usually stressed trips by bus?

TfL gives various explanations for this, citing geography, geology and architecture as the underlying causes for the lack of accessibility provision. Of course, there will always be a few small or restricted old stations where installation of lifts is going to be unfeasible.

But, as the Crossrail project has revealed, engineering miracles can be performed in the most unlikely, cramped and complex conditions. The recent boring of a Crossrail tunnel in the extremely narrow gap (nicknamed ‘the eye of the needle’) between a Northern Line tunnel and an escalator shaft at Tottenham Court Road Tube Station confirms that we have the skills, capital and technology to master difficulties of geography, geology and architecture.

What is lacking it appears is the inclination to create and implement solutions to make all of London’s Tube stations accessible. This will is lacking because an accessible Tube system is not regarded as a sufficiently important precedence for the investment of the needed resources, resources which would cost a small portion of the funds needed for Crossrail.

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It is a principle enshrined in the Equality Act of 2010 that it is unlawful when rendering goods or services to treat anyone less favourably for a reason related to their disability. We must have an accessible Tube system. Disabled and older people should have the same priority to travel by Tube as everyone else in society, and it is not right that we should be so excluded from the largest and quickest means of getting around London.

For wheelchair users, travelling on the tube can take a lot longer, and if you can’t use the stairs your journey will take four times as long.

The lack of step-free access to the underground means a journey on the Jubilee line from Baker Street to Bond Street takes 33 minutes for people with disabilities, just two minutes for able-bodied passengers.

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If a disabled person was to travel from Bond Street towards Westminster you’ll discover that what is a 5-minute journey for most, is another story for those in a wheelchair. The nearest tube station from Bond Street is Green Park, so they would have to get there in order to travel to Westminster.

It’s actually easier to take the pavement, than the bus, buses aren’t as reliable. Frequently the ramps don’t work, or there’s a buggy in the wheelchair area, or the driver is not being helpful. So what should have taken ten minutes, took twenty, and in London there’s a lack of dropped curbs, and it’s part of a disabled person’s everyday life.

But when they’re confronted with a time deadline, and they’ve got to get somewhere fast, and they’re challenged with a shortage of lowered curbs, that’s the reason it takes so long, then it gets very frustrating for them.

Yet, TfL has promised to have more than half of the rail and underground stations accessible by 2018, saying that London has one of the most accessible transport systems in the world, and supposedly they’re spending hundreds of millions of pounds in making stations and trains more accessible.

But for some that’s simply not enough, and even though it’s a move in the right direction, it’s not significant enough to open up the rest of London because at the moment only one in ten stations in zone 1 are accessible, so the West End is a no-go zone for most wheelchair users, so they can’t socialise with friends or family.

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But squeezing onto a Northern line carriage, travelling south through the City of London, passengers appear sceptical of this new badge assistant because most people have their eyes elsewhere, reading books, looking blankly at their phones or catching up on a moment’s extra sleep.

Those that are alert will size this disabled person up dubiously as a woman shifts in her seat, seemingly weighing up whether to give up her seat because of the badge but in the end, settles on a firm NO! Which is amusing, they were considering it, but then they wouldn’t move…

The badge is a great idea because I’m guessing a bunch more people will now offer a disabled person a seat, if not for anything else but out of guilt, although they’re a lot of people out there that will gladly give up their seats simply because they have an ounce of humanity!

Part of the appeal of the new badge, which will also come with a TFL card displaying the same slogan, should users prefer to only attract attention to themselves at specific times, will be its non-specific wording, allowing patrons with any condition, from chronic fatigue to sports injuries, to apply for one without having to disclose the nature of their condition.

Its ambiguity could further, of course, be a disadvantage. As with TFL’s triumphant ‘baby on board’ badges, which began in 2005 to allow pregnant women a greater opportunity at getting seats, and are now given out more than 300,000 times a year, the new badges will be accessible through a simple online application process, or in person at stations.

Unlike applying for a Blue Badge disability parking permit, which may involve a face-to-face assessment, there’s nothing to prevent scammers taking advantage, but TFL are confident they’ll be few and far between, and a tiny price to pay for supporting those in actual need.

People can be narrow-minded on the Tube, they’ll see someone in need and perhaps pose to be sleeping or avoid their gaze, but the official badges eliminate any of that awkwardness, and it might seem like such a small thing to some but to a disabled person it gives them freedom which feels amazing and stops someone from having anxiety attacks, and most disabled people won’t even travel in the rush hour as it’s such an ordeal, but these badges could actually change that.

Published by Angela Lloyd

My vision on life is pretty broad, therefore I like to address specific subjects that intrigue me. Therefore I really appreciate the world of politics, though I have no actual views on who I will vote for, that I will not tell you, so please do not ask! I am like an observation station when it comes to writing, and I simply take the news and make it my own. I have no expectations, I simply love to write, and I know this seems really odd, but I don't get paid for it, I really like what I do and since I am never under any pressure, I constantly find that I write much better, rather than being blanketed under masses of paperwork and articles that I am on a deadline to complete. The chances are, that whilst all other journalists are out there, ripping their hair out, attempting to get their articles completed, I'm simply rambling along at my convenience creating my perfect piece. I guess it must look pretty unpleasant to some of you that I work for nothing, perhaps even brutal. Perhaps I have an obvious disregard for authority, I have no idea, but I would sooner be working for myself, than under somebody else, excuse the pun! Small I maybe, but substantial I will become, eventually. My desk is the most chaotic mess, though surprisingly I know where everything is, and I think that I would be quite unsuited for a desk job. My views on matters vary and I am extremely open-minded to the stuff that I write about, but what I write about is the truth and getting it out there, because the people must be acquainted. Though I am quite entertained by what goes on in the world. My spotlight is mostly to do with politics, though I do write other material as well, but it's essentially politics that I am involved in, and I tend to concentrate my attention on that, however, information is essential. If you have information the possibilities are endless because you are only limited by your own imagination...

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