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  • My train assistance experience

    Hello everyone and welcome back to My Blurred World.

    I hope you’re all doing really well.

    It’s been a while since I’ve published a new blog post but I’m finally back today writing about my recent experience with passenger assistance on the train.

    This might not be a post that interests a lot of you but it’s a subject that needs to be heard of in my opinion and I’m hoping that the more awareness that is raised surrounding it, the more will be done to resolve the issue.

    This post is also a part of Holly (Life of a Blind Girl) and I’s #SeeingThroughSightLoss series which focuses on raising awareness of visual impairment, sharing our experiences etc. Since we both had bad experiences with train assistance last week, we thought it would be a good idea to include this post in our series.

    I mentioned in my post about my journey to independence that I was planning on trying passenger assistance on the train when travelling to Manchester last week which is exactly what I did or planned to do.

    I booked my assistance in advance, stating clearly that I am visually impaired and therefore would need to be guided to and from my seat on the train and also to the metrolink from Piccadilly station to Victoria in Manchester.

    When I arrived at the train station I was departing from, I went to the ticketing office and explained that I had booked assistance, everything seemed to be fine, the assistance turned up but he only took my luggage and I was left with my mum who had to take me on the train. Mum was coming with me as this was my first time trying assistance and I felt safer having her there incase something went wrong. I got on to the train with mum and the man who was supposedly my guide said “Your seat is there.” Now as someone who is severely sight impaired, I had no idea where ‘there’ was but he then just rushed off the train, telling my mum that he had to get off as he didn’t want to go to the next station.

    We arrived in Manchester Piccadilly a couple of hours later and both Mum and I remained seated for a good few minutes as we were expecting my assistance to arrive and take me off the train. It was lucky that Piccadilly was the last stop on the journey otherwise I could  have ended up in a completely different destination as my assistance didn’t turn up to make sure I got off the train safely. Again, my mum had to take me off the train, we waited on the platform for a few minutes following this incase we saw some form of assistance approaching but there was nothing. As I mentioned previously, the assistance was meant to help me off the train and take me to the connection to Victoria which is where I needed to go. If my mum wasn’t with me, I would have been completely lost. I would also like to mention that hardly any of the stops were announced on the train on our way to Piccadilly so there is no way that I would have known where we were or what the next stop would be. There was no announcement when we arrived at Piccadilly either which I found to be quite shocking.

    We eventually arrived at Victoria and waited for Holly and her mother to arrive at the station, when they did they explained how they experienced the same thing when it came to assistance, you can read about Holly’s experience in her post which will be linked at the end.

    Although we were extremely frustrated with our experiences with assistance during the day we resolved to forgetting about if for the night as we didn’t want it to spoil our night. We had been looking forward to Shawn Mendes’ concert since September when we booked our tickets and we didn’t want anything to stop us from enjoying it. We will be writing a post about the concert itself and our experience which will definitely be a more up-beat post so look out for that in the next week or so.

      
    (A photo of my train ticket).

    We set off home on the Saturday, Mum and I cut it a bit fine when going back to catch our train, we had five minutes to spare before our train arrived but the assistance was waiting for me on the platform which I thought seemed quite promising. We explained to the man that I needed to be guided on the train and to my seat but we weren’t impressed when yet again he only took my case and mum was left to guide me once again. We started to question if the assistance I had booked had only been told to take my luggage but on the confirmation e-mail I received, it clearly states that I have a visual impairment and therefore would need to be guided on and off the train.

    We arrived back at our origin station and yet again, the assistance didn’t turn up. This frustrated me even more than the first time because if mum wasn’t with me, I would have ended up in a completely different destination as our station wasn’t the last stop.

    I was extremely nervous to try train assistance in the first place and the experience I had definitely hasn’t boosted my confidence. All I want as a visually impaired person is to be able to travel independently and feel confident whist doing so but the fact that train assistance is so unreliable prevents me from doing this and it makes me feel very restricted. I don’t want to have to depend on my mother to come with me places, I want to be as independent as possible but I’m not able to do that as I can’t depend on the support that is vital when wanting to gain that independence.

    I have filed an offical complaint with the train operating company and I am hoping that more will be done to make sure that passenger assistance is provided at the right times and that they provide the necessary support. It doesn’t give me much confidence when wanting to travel independently and it also doesn’t give my parents peace of mind if they were to let me go on the train on my own.

    Since Holly and I live so far apart, one of the main things we want to conquer is independent travel, we would love to be able to hop on a train and travel to see each other but as assistance isn’t reliable or at least not as reliable as we would like it to be, we can’t do that at this moment in time which is extremely frustrating.

    I am hoping that in the future issues like this will be resolved and blind/VI people like myself can feel comfortable and confident when wanting to travel alone.

    Thank you for taking the time to read today’s post, I hope you all enjoyed it.

    Be sure to go over to Holly’s blog and read her post also, you can read it here.

    What kind of experience have you had with passenger assistance? Positive? Negative? Let me know in the comments or via social media.

    Elin x

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    10 Comments

    1. May 5, 2017 / 8:15 pm

      I really hope that this post reaches as many people as possible and raises awareness, it’s an issue that needs to be heard and talked about! Loved reading as always lovely xxx

      • May 5, 2017 / 9:27 pm

        Thank you so much lovely! It definitely is, fingers crossed! Xxx

    2. May 6, 2017 / 5:08 am

      I’m sorry to hear that you had a bad experience. I’m just wondering whether you explained to the rail company that your mum was with you simply as back-up but you wanted them to act as if you were travelling alone? Of course, this doesn’t explain the times when the assistance doesn’t turn up at all though… It must be hugely frustrating and potentially frightening for people travelling with no back up. I hope it doesn’t put you off trying again and hope you have a better experience next time!

      • May 6, 2017 / 7:54 am

        Yes I did explain that more than once but they still didn’t seem to understand. It is very frustrating but we can only hope that the service improves in the future. Thank you for reading 🙂

    3. May 6, 2017 / 2:10 pm

      Here in the states it depends which station you are at and time of day (ie rush hour or not) whether you’ll be aided in a useful way. But if you’re going to be traveling the same route back and forth to your friends through the same stations, would it possibly be best to have some O&M instruction instead for those routes so you don’t have to rely on an unknown potentially unreliable assistant? That’s what I and others I know here in the states usually do. Get to know the station and the route well enough to not need or require much if any extra aid. Travel it back and forth a couple of times with someone who can describe, help and teach you what you need to know to do it. Not sure how that works where you are but hope you can figure something out.

    4. sean
      May 9, 2017 / 1:03 pm

      Elin

      This is a very disheartening post, and I’m sorry to hear it’s put you off booking assistance in the future. AS a blind person myself who regularly uses trains, I get very annoyed at blind people who turn up on a planned journey needing, but not having booked assistance. You did the right thing in booking it, of course, but I would urge other blind people reading this that if you do turn up and expect help, potentially a person who’s already booked that help in advance will be left to struggle because of staffing. Of course, everyone has unplanned and emergency travel, but I strongly believe that if you’ve got a journey in mind then there’s no excuse for booking help if you know you’ll be needing it.

      Now, on to the meat of your journey, I do think your mum is a big factor here. You’ve probably already experienced the situation where you’re with someone sighted, and a person engages them, rather than you? I think a similar thing probably happened here with the train staff. They took your luggage but could clearly see your mum was within arm’s reach of you. You’ll never get three people through a train door at once, and as there were two responsible, sighted adults in the situation and 2 things to work with (i.e. you and your bags) then naturally, the work was split. A stranger to you would of course gravitate to your luggage, as everyone knows how to handle a bag. If they weren’t confident in dealing with you as a blind person, or if they felt your mum was already guiding you or there to guide you, the way they handled themselves was perfectly sensible. It is true as well that the assistants are based at the station rather than on the train. Again, why would the assistant potentially cause a delay, when you were already being guided by someone sighted?
      I would give good odds that he saw his job as helping both of you onto the train and showing you where to go, and the most efficient way for doing that was to carry the bags and indicate the seat to your mum, who we’ve already established has the eyes in the situation.

      Assistance on national rail works best if the person who helps you onto the train alerts your destination station of your planned arrival time and location. I’ve rarely been met at a seat myself, but part of that is because I don’t want to wait in case I miss my stop. I know other people who have explicitly booked “from-seat”, and sometimes it’s worked and sometimes it hasn’t. If you’re nervous, it may be worth asking the ticket inspector or a train guard as they pass by to give you a hand when you get to where you need to be. Again, this is because assistance comes from the station and not the train, so unless you’re arriving at a very well-prepared and quiet station I wouldn’t trust to it. If you’ve got other disabilities of course, then you’d be expected to be given more help, but a typical blind person with a few train journeys under her belt would, I think not unfairly, be expected to make her way off the train onto the station platform. Obviously, you can’t get yourself around an unfamiliar train station with ease, but walking from your seat to a door you can hear opening is usually doable with practice. Even if you don’t get out of the train, getting your stuff together and making inroads in that direction labels you as someone on the move and helps the assistant to find you.

      As to the matter of knowing your stop, it’s a sad fact that not all trains talk yet. The prepared disabled traveller has to take this into consideration and either count stops, ask a member of the public or use technology. Always go into a journey expecting a silent train, and you’ll never be disappointed. There are numerous GPS apps for phones available to assist you, and knowing how long your journey should take and just keeping an eye on the time is often advisable.

      I’m also sad to say it, but being on your own makes a huge difference. If it is evident that someone who can see what they’re doing is with you, even if they aren’t there for you, I have found that people are much less likely to help. Contrariwise when I have travelled by myself, with dog or cane or whatever it may be, I have rarely had a journey without a member of the public offering help. Assistance I have booked has been reliable and helpful a good 9 times out of 10, and if they’ve been especially busy the public have always stepped in to ask if they can take up the slack. A friendly, approachable face, refusing politely if I don’t need help and a willingness to engage with people goes a very long way.

      I am sorry to hear of your bad experience and hope that the train company make some changes to improve things

    5. May 9, 2017 / 10:28 pm

      Welcome back Elin,

      It is upsetting to hear about the difficulties met when
      your needs were not met. You did not need a “bell hop”
      to carry your bags, what you needed real assistance.
      You were smart to take your Mother along for support
      since you were correct in doing so. Your optimism &
      proactive steps in problem solving both online & directly
      with these companies is going to do wonders for the
      community. I really believe you have the basis for a
      Consulting Business, working directly with multiple
      companies (locally & nationally) helping them with
      integrating accessibility across multiple platforms.
      (online & in real life with signage / design, training,etc)

      The way you write is so articulate & clearly states the
      situations that you & many other people find themselves in.
      Some are minor & others can be serious & often dangerous.
      This type of proactive problem solving is not only good for
      business practices, but also safety & awareness in general.

      Thank you for all that you are doing, this is important work.

      • May 10, 2017 / 6:09 pm

        Thank you so much, that means a lot to me. I’m hoping that by writing posts like this I can raise awareness of some of the issues blind/VI people and disabled people in general are faced with in the world. Thank you for reading as always 🙂

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