Disabled people need a Plan B-Z when they travel

Like everyone else, I was concerned to read about the difficulties faced by out-of-order accessible toilets on a train, and the now infamous incident at the start of the year was certainly something that warranted a strong complaint. However, I did feel the media did take it too far, once again using it as an opportunity to portray people with impairments as vulnerable who need to have a level of impossible perfect accessibility before they could consider being included in society.

However much we should never stop campaigning for a more accessible world, people with impairments also need to be prepared for the world we currently have, a world that is not always perfect and is in many areas unlikely to be perfect for many years. I have just come back from a cruise on Thomson Celebration going around the Persian Gulf from Dubai. This is my second cruise, where my first one with Royal Caribbean, around the Caribbean, was delightfully accessible around the ship and at every port.

Like before, I took my electric wheelchair this time, which was absolutely fine around the ship. The difficulty was that every port required using some kind of transport that was inaccessible to my bulky and heavy chair. I was not phased by this and from a desire to go on a city tour by coach on the first day, including going up Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, within a few hours I had borrowed a manual wheelchair from the ship that I kept and used throughout the week. The staff at all levels on the ship could not have been more helpful despite the clear environmental barriers the cruise had.

When I asked about the wheelchair at reception I saw a large Asian family complaining loudly that they had been ‘promised’ an accessible room for their wheelchair using mother and ‘what were they going to do about it’, where the response from the very apologetic steward was there was not a lot that could be done at that stage. I could sympathise with their circumstances but many years of travelling have taught me that once you leave the UK, the one so many activists are happy to berate for its accessibility, you have no guarantees of anything in relation to accessibility, especially when you go in a country where the concept of liberalism is allowing women to drive for the first time!

I did not book an accessible room because I knew so long as I  could get my electric wheelchair into my cabin and I could charge it, I could manage the rest for one week. However, as soon as I arrived, the staff were very helpful, including the customer services manager, who came with me to my cabin to check it was okay and I had everything I needed.

I know that as someone with a significant impairment when I travel aboard I need to lower my standards on accessibility and accept things are likely to not be perfect. This means for every activity, as simple as getting on a coach, I need a Plan B, C, D and so on. There is little point huffing and puffing about how wrong it is when you are in a very different culture, which I personally just want to experience. So the adventurer with a significant impairment needs to put their pride and sometimes dignity aside as many wanted and unwanted hands assist them to overcome barriers like stairs in places where the concept of accessibility is many decades away.

I have discussed this preparedness before and some people have argued it is defeatist, putting the problems of society back onto the individual. It, however, depends on your attitudes to new opportunities that present challenges. I am prepared to compromise and have my backup plans in order to experience the many wonderful experiences the world has to offer, which are not yet fully wheelchair accessible, but why should that stop me?

A Greater Anglian failure

I have been using trains throughout the UK and Internationally for 25 years from a time I was walking to now as an electric wheelchair user. I am the type of impaired rail user who never books assistance because I have found that with a smile and a friendly attitude, staff are often 99% happy to assist you if you just turn up, which should be my right to do so. So when I encounter a situation like I faced on Saturday, I am really not amused.

I went with my volunteer to Lee Valley Whitewater Centre to try Hydrospeeding and Hotdogging, which is in Waltham Cross, London. Before I went, I spent some time on Google Maps finding the most accessible I assumed and quickest route possible, deciding to stick with trains as well as giving me plenty of time to arrive on time and hopefully early.

Getting from Coventry to Euston with Virgin Trains was easy as I know the route very well. We walked to St Pancras and caught the Southeastern Javelin train to Stratford International, a 6-minute journey. Then a quick and interesting walk straight through the Westfield shopping centre to the original Stratford station. And this is where it all started to go wrong.

We needed to catch the Abelilo Greater Anglian train to Waltham Cross, a 20-minute journey. Due to poor signage, it firstly took us a while to find the right platform and only with assistance. Once on the platform, the train was late and when it arrived the staff appeared frozen for a few minutes before getting the ramp for me to board the train. As we were boarding, a member of staff suddenly said: “Oh, you need to get off at Tottenham Hale because Waltham Cross is unmanned”!

At Tottenham Hale, a brash duty manager said she booked a special accessible taxi as there were none at the station and we just had to wait. Looking outside, I could see that there were plenty of taxis that would take my chair. I explained this to her, and her reply was “not one that we are prepared to pay for”.

We waited almost an hour for the taxi, which was just a black cab that was nothing particularly special but still ok. The journey then took a good 40 minutes, but we managed to convince the driver to take us straight to the watersports centre.

The Hydrospeed was booked for 1.30pm, and it was now 2.30pm! We had missed it but luckily we could go on the next session at 3.30pm! We had a great time and finished up, changing out of wetsuits, etc., around 6ish.

We were a bit at a loss to how to proceed to get home. So we firstly walked to Waltham Cross station. No staff but there was a lift and a ramp (locked) on the Platform heading towards Stratford. A train arrived and with help from our passengers; the driver was alerted that I needed assistance which he, for his wisdom, point blank refuse to do. I know other train operators would be far more helpful!!!

So we walked to the bus station and caught the bus to Tottenham Hale that took 1 hour before 1/2 mile to the station. We came back here before I had assumed since we had been dumped here originally, it was accessible, it was modern looking enough. Upon arriving at the station, I went from relief to confusion to total annoyance as it dawned on me there was no lift to the platform we needed! This is the point I lost it, demanding if there was no lift the station must close on the grounds of health and safety since it had been the law for over 20 years!

The same brash duty manager, who was now booking another taxi to Stratford, made the excuse it was a Victorian building. As we were waiting another hour in the waiting room, I was impressed at seeing the modern escalator, glass walls and ticket gates were apparently a part of the original Victorian design, as it would have needed the assistance of Doctor Who to achieved this!

Waiting another 15 minutes outside for the same taxi as before, we slowly realised the last Virgin Train home was at 9.43pm and at was now 9pm, and basically we missed it and were now stuck overnight in London. I could not consider a coach because my wheelchair did not collapse.

So back to the relevant safety of St Pancras and the Euston Road, we had to book a room at the Premier Inn, costing £223 with breakfast! With no access to my evening meds, it was a painful night. We finally returned to Coventry 10.30am on Sunday, a full 24 hours since we left.

The mess was not because something went wrong but because Abelilo is a train operator who feels until now it has been acceptable to discriminate wheelchair users, but with my assistance, whether they want it or not, this is about to change so watch this space!

A fire hazard in Budapest

I have just come back from a nice if not cold break from Budapest, staying with a very close friend I had not seen for a few years. One night I asked if we could go out somewhere and she thought of the nightclub attached to the Full Moon hostel, a new generation of party hostels allowing guests to party all nighg and sleep all day.

So with my volunteer, her and her boyfriend, and myself, we walked the 5 minutes to the club. I was in my newly acquired Quantum electric wheelchalr. On approaching the enterance to the club, we were confronted with the usual security type staff this sort of place has, and this is where the fun and games began.

I find it interesting  that it does not matter what language it is in, even when I do not understand a word being said, I can quickly understand when I am being talked about and when it is not good news. My friend had the ‘conversation’ with the security staff, the gist of which was from what I could tell was I was being refused entry as a wheelchair user because I was a fire hazard!

My friend is an experienced coporate lawyer and I was proud to say that due to past experiences she had with myself many years ago and other dysabled friends, she was not going to let this one lie. I calmly waited, refusing to get mad at that point, as she commenced battle. She demanded to inspect the club to check its accessibility, to discover to her further annoyance that for the most part, the club was fully wheelchair accessible, the best she had seen!

Armed with this piece of information, she swiftly verbally disarmed the security staff who sheepishly now let us in. I then find it slightly insulting that after this awkwardness, we still had to pay at the door, and it was not the right place to ask for a ‘carer’s discount’. After this difficult start, we had a great time and I was proud that at almost 42, I can still occasionally really enjoy the youthfulness of an nightclub.

So why was this incident worth writing about? Surely this is  commonplace in a less developed country like Hungary? Well, while we enjoy an almost unparalleled level of accessibility in many parts of the UK (to the point I am embarrassed when some activists complain about it), Hungary is a highly developed country as a member of the European Union. While Hungary may be slower at implementing accessibility, like most Western democracies, the moral arguement for accessibility has been won.

Activism has to tackle the small things as well as the large ones. My tools includes writing aricles and so as soon as the incident happened, I was starting to write this article in my head. You can call it awareness raising, revenge, an attempt to embarrassed the hostel, or simply a coping mechanism to offload the unconscious hurt an incident like this can cause. I always hope sharing my experiences will help others to take a similar stand when they face discrimination themselves.

Information is power and now the power to share information is in the hands of the masses, so lets use it to expose the everyday difficulties we face, like the discrimination I faced at this nightclub.

Equality in Nigeria and Prague


I often get the impression that despite my many articles and the fact I am in total control of my life, people often do not grasp the fact I lead a normal like. They have been many adventures in my life with demonstrates how inclusive and normally unusual my life have been.


The first was a students style summer project I did in Nigeria in 1994 with forty or so students from the UK teaching English and other subjects to local children in Lagos. To cut a very long story short, it was a nightmare of an adventure where I walked away quite unwell physically and maybe emotionally, but with many wonderful and powerful memories. The personal achievement for was I was the only disabled person on the project and while I had my fair share of difficulties, I did not allow this to prevent me from making my contribution.


In 1996, I did another similar project in Prague, where I ended up playing one of three Romeos and Julliets in a very special version of the play there are is, which I also helped write. Again I was the only disabled participant and an equal member of the group. For me, I believe the only way to change society is to get stuck in and demonstrate what disabled people can achieve, not sit on the sidelines complaining how I am not included!


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email simon@simonstevens.com  


My battles with pushchairs


It was always a matter of time as a very regular bus user to end up blogging about pushchairs. Now for me, this is nothing to do with bus drivers as they need to drive the bus, not always sort the dance with pushchairs I need to have on buses. For those who do not realise, when I use a bus in my wheelchair I have to sit backwards on a very specific place in the bus and I have no choice in that. Depending on the type of bus, there is often an obstacle course of rails for me to overcome which requires a lot of turning space as on some buses, I need to turn to a lot to get in.


This is fine when the bus is empty and the minute I have one or more pushchairs in the way and its become mission impossible. I do not like to bark orders to my fellow passengers as I hope they see the issue and cooperate. That said, I am shocked at the size of some of these pushchairs, like they were battleships, and how some parents give no regard to other passengers. While my wheelchair is neatly out way once I am in, some parents leave the pushchairs blocking the isle with no imagination that they could actually fold down their chairs as their children could actually get off in a way I can’t. 


This leads me to believe the buses of the future will need to be designed quite differently to accommodate the changing demographics of users.


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email simon@simonstevens.com  

We can experience the world


While I do not believe we are in John Mayor’s idea of a classless society, I believe we live in a country where there are opportunities for anyone to experience the world in one way or another if we are prepared to put the work in needed to take up these opportunities regardless of our background. Disabled people especially have far more opportunities than ever before.


Throughout my life I have experienced so many wonderful things from around the world before having must money because I was willing to try things and work hard to widen my horizons to make myself hopefully a better person. I always believed you can’t really comment on something unless you tried it at least once and this has always been a part of my attitude.


It is easy for people to stay in their comfort zones but what right do they have to complain in the name of others if they have made no effort to experience everything the world can offer them?


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email simon@simonstevens.com  


Transport must continuously improve




I am a big fan of public transport and almost a geek when it comes to the architecture of transport. I love how train stations and other transport systems are continuously improving and more importantly becoming more accessible to people with various impairments. Public transport has improved so much in the last twenty years and I become by continuing to improve it plays an important part in the liberation of disabled people.


I was personally reduce the monies spent on the mobility component of DLA/PIP and spent it on improving the accessibility of public transport, pavements and so on, which I believe would benefit a lot more people and enable disabled people to enjoy more stress free journeys. Unfortunately I am sure it will not stop the hard core whingers from complaining about how inaccessible transport stopping them from working but nothing would please them.


If you like what I say, have a look at my site at www.simonstevens.com or follow me on twitter, @simonstevens74, or even leave me feedback on +44 (0)121 364 1974 or email simon@simonstevens.com  


Going on a Summer Holiday

As I said yesterday, today I am flying to New York and while it is for a working holiday, it is still a change that is as good as a rest. It is the first summer holiday I have been some years and I now to try to have one every year in one way or another in the future, as well as having a break at Christmas.

A summer holiday for me has always been some kind of working holiday. For many years I did week long to 10 day seminars for young disabled and non-disabled people across Europe with a project called European Human Bridges. They are certainly hard work but enormous fun. Sometimes immersing yourself in a new form of temporary stress can give you a bigger break to your normal stress than sitting on the beach, with nothing to occupy the mind.

I never know what is coming next is my life and while I was so much enjoy this summer holidays, I also look forward to my holidays in the future.

New York New York

Tomorrow I am flying to New York to spend a few days there before travelling by train to Pittsburgh for a conference on AAC. I have been through New York by plane and train before but I never had the good luck to by able to stay there and I am very excited about this amazing opportunity to visit a true capital of the world.

I am my hotel booked near the 9/11 Memorial and I have not booked anything to do as I want to go with the flow and just soak up the flow. I also plan to answer the food and the variety of fast food available. Having my electric wheelchair and my German volunteer is certainly make it easy and fun but still tiring.

I have already prewritten my blog articles for when I am away to keep up my commitment while having some fun time.

I Love Budapest

This week I am in Budapest in Hungary and this is certainly one of my favourite cities, next to London. I have regarded it as the Central European version of London since it is so big. I first visited Budapest in 1993 on a disabled exchange trip, and I have been back many times for work and pleasure. One of the many strings to my bow is I have been involved in European Youth work since 1996 in one way or another, taking part and organising activities that bring disabled and non-disabled young people together from all over Europe. 

To have another opportunity this great city is a pleasure despite the work element to my trip. I have many friends here and many good memories. It played an important part of my growing up in my 20s to who I am today. I am no tourist here but simply somewhere that is a home away from home.