To Work or not To Work: the Disability Paradox
I am a person with disabilities. I was diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis about 10 years ago, and it has degenerated, as it is wont to do. I have mobility problems and I need to use a disabled person’s freedom travel pass (DPFTP) to travel because I cannot know day-to-day if I am going to be able to walk or not (I also have epilepsy but that is fully controlled with life-long medication so doesn’t cause me problems in my everyday life). It was a heck of a fight to actually get a travel pass in the first place given the hoops you have to jump through (ha! As if I could jump let alone make it through a hoop!) to prove your disability. There is no understanding of the flexibility (again, ha!) and changeable nature of many mobility disabilities; one day I may be able to walk 500 metres, another day I’ll be lucky to get out of bed without collapsing. Every single day I am in pain, to varying levels.
This morning it was brought to my attention that disabled people are made invisible and restricted in what they can do (not new to me, but to many it may be). I was attempting to get onto the platform of my local (to my office, for yes, I am one of the ‘lucky’ disableds with a job, in a supportive workplace too!) train station to visit a new client.
I was denied access. Apparently my DPFTP will only work after 9.30 am on National Rail services. Check out the complicated map I have to try and understand every time I attempt to travel, that the staff didn’t give me and I had to download from t’interwebes myself (tough luck if you don’t have internet access, disableds):
(this also applies to people with older person’s travel passes; 60 for women, 65 for men – non-existent gods forbid you should work after this age, because everyone knows the state pension pays enough to live on champagne and oysters for the rest of your life).
I had understood I would be able to travel as this was the advice I had been given previously. However, my local (to my home) train station, being the one I would normally use, is on the underground as well as overground line, so I can only assume that it is the underground I am allowed to travel on. Same station, same platform, similar times, different operator, different rules. Confused? Yeah, me too.
I had to cancel my client meeting and source another firm nearer to their location to help them. This potential client was dying, about to be transferred to a hospice and desperately wanted a Will drafted, and we had done a lot of preparation to make this possible, so I feel terrible about this. I can only hope the other firm is able to help them.
Disabled people in England & Wales are now stuck in a situation where they are denied the ability to travel within normal working hours in the morning, yet are being bullied and threatened into applying for myriad jobs to which they cannot get for fear of losing the PIP they have been transferred onto because their disability has been deemed not to be ‘bad enough’ by a panel of unqualified non-medical personnel with no experience or empathy. (Scotland and Northern Ireland tend to have different rules; it may even vary county to county within England & Wales but many people commute to London so this affects ALL of them).
A disabled person’s freedom travel pass is not a luxury, it is an essential part of the life of a disabled person with mobility issues. Even with being in full-time work I still need it because I cannot know day-to-day how I may be. Mornings are always appalling now. Without the pass, I could not afford to work. I am lucky, my partner works but he needs the car (and I cannot always drive it, if my pain is particularly bad I cannot be safe behind the steering wheel) so I have to use public transport. That’s my individual experience; many have similar but different tales to tell.
Policy is not the same for all travel companies, and I was left humiliated, embarrassed, angry and apologetic to the staff who had suffered my ire (I did express my apologies as it is not their fault). To me, National Rail is clearly discriminating against disabled people who work, and given the government is determined to make as many disabled people enter the workforce as possible (even if they die whilst applying for jobs or are actually unable to work due to their particular disability*) this discrimination is going to become more widespread.
I’m still angry, so I’m not sure how much of this blog is making sense, and I’m left wondering if maybe I should just give up working. All I know is
- I’m disabled.
- I work full-time.
- I cannot use my travel pass on National Rail services during working hours, when able-bodied people can.
- The only difference between the passes is my disabled pass is free to me and non-disabled travel passes are paid for by the person using it.
- Policy on use of the DPFTP is inconsistent.
In my opinion, that’s discrimination.