This question has recently come up in various conversations with blind and partially sighted people. With all things vision impaired related, there is no right or wrong answer!
Let’s face it, sometimes life can be stressful enough without worrying about how to get to the train station platform, or in my case if I’ll end up on the correct loop of the Central Line on the London Underground. I don’t particularly have a desire for ending up somewhere I don’t need to be! At times, the journey to the station itself can be taxing enough and it is reassuring to know that assistance should generally be available once at the underground station if I require it.
Around 13 years ago I certainly wouldn’t have classed myself as an independent traveller, but knowing that assistance would be available most definitely helped build my confidence to venture out. I’ve recently been asking myself would I have plucked up the courage to travel on the underground had there been no assistance available? Based on how little confidence I had, the answer is probably not. However, would I continue to use trains if assistance wasn’t available now? Absolutely yes! I can’t imagine giving up the freedom of everything I do, from work to socialising.
I still remember my first experience of not being met off the train at Liverpool Street Station. I felt so distressed that I just wanted to cry, which wasn’t the most sensible approach, but panic took over and logic went out the window! With my more experienced head on, I now use other senses such as hearing what direction people are walking, listening for sounds of the ticket barriers beeping or escalators, etc. Smell is another equally valuable sense as the smell of coffee is generally, but not always, a good sign that you are heading towards the exit, or if you know the station it can help you get your bearings. Nowadays, if I’m not met off the train then I’ll grumble about it without the feeling of sheer panic taking over and will happily ask a member of the public to point me in the right direction. There is no denying that things do go wrong and many times I haven’t been met off the train, or had to wait ages for assistance. However, I am most definitely grateful that the service exists.
The countering view by some people is that many other countries do not offer the service we receive here in the UK and blind and partially sighted people manage, so why couldn’t we cope? Just because people get by, does it mean they wouldn’t want the service?
I believe it is better to have a service than not have one at all, as it gives people the choice to use it or not.
It would be great to hear other people’s thoughts on whether they think staff assistance is needed at train stations? Please leave a comment and share your own personal experiences and stories of how you started to use trains.
Written by Masuma Ali, ELVis CEO