Travelling on trains when you’re legally blind

Emily Davison

Emily is legally blind. She tells us about her experience using trains and how stressful changing trains or just trying to buy a ticket can be.

For me, travelling continues to be one of the hardest elements of living with a disability. This is something that needs to change.

Campaigner Emily Davidson with her guide dog Unity
Emily Davidson with her guide dog Unity

Travelling on trains can be a headache at the best of times, with endless crowds, cancellations and delays and the constant battle to find a seat. But when you’re disabled these problems are just the tip of the iceberg.

Being legally blind and working with a guide dog I face a torrent of obstacles on my train journeys every time I travel.  

Buying a train ticket is complicated

The first issue I face happens when I arrive at the station and go to buy a ticket. If a member of staff is available at the ticket office this isn’t an issue. But, often smaller stations in my local area don’t have a member of staff manning the ticket office all the time, especially during off-peak times. Being severely sight impaired means I cannot easily see the ticket machine. With no sighted help I have no means of purchasing a ticket. 

In cases where stations aren’t manned, I also face the problem of boarding the correct train and finding a seat for me and my guide dog without assistance. Trains can be busy at the best of times and trying to negotiate crowded carriages with my guide dog is one of the worst parts of any train journey. Often there aren’t any seats available.  I usually find myself stood up next to the train doors with my guide dog Unity trying to avoid her being stepped on.

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Changing from trains to the London Underground

The next set of issues usually arrives when I’m transferring from a main station to a tube. When you have a guide dog you cannot hop on an escalator like anyone else. The guide dog has to be specially trained and you have to have assistance with you to do this. But my guide dog isn’t escalator trained due to an accident she had on them when she was in training.

Instead, I rely on lifts, stairs or staff physically stopping the escalators for me to walk up and down them. But during peak times staff cannot stop escalators for me to use due to the sheer volume of people who need to use them. So, a large number of tube stations are not accessible to me and this means I often have to find other means of transport like a bus, or I need to pay to get a taxi.

Travelling outside of London

Yet living in London I’m lucky to have things like audio announcements on trains, travel assistance and good bus and taxi services. But when I have to travel out of London for work or leisure, I find that I’ve come across even more problems.

When I ride trains, I find that not all of them have audio announcements for the next stop and often travel assistance in other parts of the UK or in smaller stations isn’t as efficient as it is in London. So I’m often left waiting at a platform for assistance.

On one occasion no assistance arrived to assist me off the train. I  had to rely on the help of other passengers to help me disembark the train with my guide dog and my heavy suitcase. 

Travelling is one of the hardest parts of living with a disability

Travelling as a legally blind person can be incredibly taxing, both mentally and physically. Having to constantly plan routes that fit my access needs and having to add so much time on my journey to account for assistance has a profound impact on my independence.

I worry about my future in employment and whether I would be able to be consistently punctual to a job where I had to commute via trains and tubes on a daily basis. For me, travelling continues to be one of the hardest elements of living with a disability. This is something that needs to change.

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