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Amplifying voices on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

by Jacqueline Starr, CEO, Rail Delivery Group

This year’s theme for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Fighting for rights in the post-Covid era”.

Over the past two years, in some ways, disabled people have experienced greater inclusion- through changes such as working from home, online performances of arts and Zoom events – bringing us all together.

At the same time, the term “clinically vulnerable” appeared when talking about disabled people, when it should really be “clinically susceptible”. During Covid, we began to call disabled people “vulnerable”, implying that we are protecting them from possible harm, wrapping them up in cotton wool in a patronising way when it’s actually the environment and attitudes that are disabling the community once again. This simply should not be happening, and – in some respects - it feels a step back to the past.

The rail industry is proud that passenger assistance continued throughout the pandemic for key workers who required it, providing them with a vital service to getting them to work, or when restrictions lifted, to seeing family and friends again. I’m pleased that frontline colleagues recognised that disabled people played their part as the cohort of key workers.

We promoted the Sunflower lanyard scheme nationwide as an option for customers – many of whom had an ‘invisible’ disability – to discretely indicate when they might need assistance. We also continued our disability equality training for frontline staff, improving their understanding of how they can better support customers who need assistance when travelling by train.

In May, we launched the Passenger Assistance app, which makes it easier and quicker for disabled customers to request assistance for their train journeys.

Looking ahead to April 2022, the six-hour booking notice to request assistance will be reduced to two hours - although we’ll always aim to provide support, whether it’s requested a week in advance or if a customer turns up on the day. It’s a further step to making the railway more accessible.

The work continues on putting the recommendations of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail into action, including creating a whole industry accessibility strategy for disabled people – because despite the improvements, there is still much more we can do.

Work to make this strategy as good as it can be is underway. We’re speaking to colleagues from across the industry and engaging with our disabled customers to better understand their needs, so that we can deliver real improvements that will support our vision of an inclusive and easy to use railway.

On the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I’d encourage you to listen to the voices of people with disabilities, celebrate their successes over the past 12 months and be an ally as they fight for equality – something which many of us take for granted.

Today, Chris Jeffery, Accessibility Co-ordinator at TransPennine Express, and Joanne Tick, who works within RDG’s Accreditation team and is a member of the Disability Awareness Network, reflect on their own experiences and their hopes for a better and more inclusive railway in their own blog posts. I hope you will find these as insightful as I did in informing the ways in which we can deliver for all our customers.

Only by including, listening and acting can we keep making change in our world. Above all, disabled people will tell you and I: “Nothing About Us, Without Us.”

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