Disabled actor, Samantha Renke, who you may recognise from the current Maltesers advertising campaign, has spoken out about a harrowing train journey that made her fear for her health.
Renke, who has brittle bone disease and has to use a wheelchair, boarded the London bound Virgin Train in Preston on 27th December. The train was very busy and when she got to her seat in the disabled area she found it to be full of luggage. She was then asked by staff to move to the disabled area in the next carriage, but that had also been used to store bags. Some of the bags were moved to make space for Samantha, but the luggage still blocked her access to the disabled toilet.
In an interview with The Guardian, she said:
“There was no consensus at all between the staff what should be done, whether people should have to move their bags or not, it was me who had to step in and point to the sign that says there has to be disabled access in that area by law.”
“It’s appalling, but to me it is all too familiar, it’s just our lives. People don’t think about what those with impairments have to go through.”
Her journey was later made even worse when, upon arriving in London, there was no ramp to allow her to disembark the train. After waiting for 20 minutes she had to shout to a member of staff on the platform to help her. By this time all the other passengers and staff had left the train. The whole journey had been very stressful and exhausting for Samantha, who also told The Guardian:
“It felt very hazardous. I was worried the entire time that someone might fall on me because the disabled area is just next to the toilet. Disabled people are expected to compromise, and not travel at crowded times, but I had to get back to work.”
This story comes only a week after Paralympic athlete Anne Wafula was forced to wet herself on a 3 hour CrossCountry train journey where there were no accessible toilet facilities.
11-times Paralympic champion and disability campaigner, Lady Grey-Thomson discussed the issue and told of her own rail travel experiences:
“Some companies only have two wheelchair spaces – one in first and one in standard. It’s variable where the toilets may be. Or if they work.”
“The reality as a wheelchair user is that you’re always having to plan ahead for toilets. You’re always looking to see where an accessible one is; having to control what you drink.”
Former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, Bert Massie, who was refused a place on ScotAirways flight in 2000 because there was no wheelchair access, spoke of the women’s bravery:
“It takes courage to speak out in public about these things, but I am sure that for every person who goes public, there is an undisclosed number of people who are suffering indignity in private.”
Samantha contacted Virgin Trains on Twitter and told them of her experience. A spokesperson later replied:
“We’re extremely disappointed to hear of Samantha’s experience. We want everyone to have an enjoyable experience on our trains and will look into this specific incident to understand exactly what happened.”