My new best friend

Just under seven years ago I lost my sight and was registered BLIND.

It was assumed by many that I would be default be issued with a guide dog or would in some magical way “acquire” one

I opted at that time for long cane training, having never owned a dog in my life. knowing I had some wonderful mind maps / plans to navigate by and in the belief that a younger person would ahve more need of such a scarce resources as a Guide Gog

For over 5 years this went well as a plan and I was i thought active and skilled, but as cities changed, methods of transport with them, I felt increasingly under pressure, found it more difficult to be engaged and involved within the disabled community I now inhabited and even less so in the local community where I have lived for almost 45 years.

My wife seeing my difficulty and distress during and after a difficult day in Birmingham city center, calmly informed me that I now had no choice I must get a Guide Dog! and this from some one who has an innate fear of dogs irrespective of their shape, size or breed.

I went through an application process that was thorough, yet simple ,ensuring that not only was I but my lifestyle and world would benefit from a guide dogs involvement.

On Easter Tuesday (21st April 2014) after being “matched” with a suitable dog a few weeks earlier  Tilly came into my life, as a pure golden Labrador she was and is special, she was also the 100th sponsored puppy from the http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/, she was quickly christened Miss Tilly as she clearly had attitude and presence.

Miss Tilly had an impact on my life that was both dramatic and immediate, even whilst undergoing my training which I was able to do whilst based at home, although there was an opportunity some take to be hotel based away from home and the distractions of family life etc.

Once certified ( passed the course) I resumed my hectic life, with rounds of meetings and travel  around the UK.

Miss Tilly adapted to my life, her new home and the people I meet on a daily basis, some are guide dog owners, some are chair users, but nothing seems to phase her.

On the 10th June 2014 Miss Tilly took my wife and I up to London, for one of the most exciting days of our lives.

We had been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. and upon entering the grounds an official of the Royal Household approached us, and after a short conversation asked if we would “like to meet and be presented to Her Majesty the Queen”

This duly happened and made a memorable day into an exceptionally special day.

Miss Tilly and I are planning our next adventure a journey via Eurostar  train and the french TGV system which will offer us, Breakfast in Birmingham, lunch in Paris and dinner in Bordeaux, where we plan to stay for 4 days.

Thus is the power of a guide dog, so my question is

Where will your guide dog take you?

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Action on improving bus travel

RNIB Bus campaign

“Stop for me, Speak to me”

Two weeks of action draws to a close

 

Friday 2nd August saw the close of phase on of this campaign two weeks of intense action that had taken us, the blind, ably lead by regional Campaign Officers, national RNIB staff, family friends, and supporters, to various locations across the country Starting in Stoke on Trent, with the last swap meet being in Hull on 1st August, and an appearance on you and yours on 2 August by Nicola Doige to talk to the world about our dreams, desires and why we are gathering evidence for the DfT.

 

Friday also saw colleges and I back on familiar ground, well sort of.

We left the RNIB Birmingham offices armed with long canes and bus inhalers, and walked to the City center where we took a National Express (WM) bus no 61 from Small brook Queensway to Selly Oak.

We gave the driver the minimal information about where we wanted to go or how much we knew, our sighted “protectors” hanging back and posing as just another passenger.

 

The ride to Selly Oak, home of Birmingham University was fast and smooth, the driver stopped and told us that if we wanted the no 11 A we should alight here or if we wanted the no 11C (this until recently was the longest bus route in the world, almost 28 miles with the A bus running Anti-Clockwise and the C bus running clockwise.

We opted for the latter so he pulled away to the a stop about 400 yards further along the road, he stopped adjacent to the kerb, ensured that we knew where to go and which bus stop we needed, this was a bonus as the bus shelters were both overgrown by ivy and overhanging trees making finding them difficult and even for our “protectors” confirming the bus stop was correct was a virtual impossibility.

It is worth noting that aseriers of controlled pedestrian crossings across the A38 a fast dual carriage way leading to south Birmingham and beyond were not working and we had to rely upon our “protectors”

After a short wait the no 11c arrived stopped adjacent to the stop with again the driver, without prompting confirming that his was the no 11c service and after a brief discussion confirming he would ensure we left at the right bus stop for our onward connection.

Again he waited until we were seated, then pulled away, the ride was smooth and comfortable, the bus was busy, but he still found time after others had alighted to confirm we had reached our destination and he directed us to where the bus stop was for our onward journey.

We crossed the road using a dark smelly underpass not for the faint hearted, to reach the stop for the No 9.

This bus arrived and drew close to the kerb, we were at the back of the line so were the last boarding, the lady bus driver again without prompting confirmed that she was driving an no9 and when asked confirmed her final destination in Birmingham City center.

She waited till we were seated drew away and we had a very pleasant journey all the way back to Birmingham City center.

On this occasion we made good time, no hold ups and made very good connections.

There is however a theme when we complete the data gathering from on our trips.

Information or rather the lack of it, which I will blog about later, but save to say the situation is deplorable with no real time live information, no talking buses and no talking buss tops to help the VI passenger.

Aother day. Another Bus journey

Lichfield to Stafford

ARRIVA

Service 825

Flying solo for the RNIB Campaign

 

Today one of the hottest of the year I chose to fly “solo” as part of the RNIB “stop for me, Speak to me” Campaign.

 I took a local train to Lichfield from my home  a short 15 minute trip that is almost 45 minutes on a bus, and for once time was precious , so that’s my excuse.

 I arrived in Lichfield, left the station crossed the main road and I was literally in what passes for a bus station in Lichfield, it resembles a very large lay by on the side of the road to me.

 There was no help readily available (bus company employees) so I asked another person, ok so its not what’s in the rules but needs must etc.

I waited about five minutes when a bus arrived at the stop I was standing at, after the passengers alighted I boarded the bus ad was greeted with a very cheery “Good Morning, this is the 825 all stops to Stafford)

I thanked the driver and flashed my pass and was asked to scan it, finding the scanner with some guidance from the driver.

I was also asked “Do you know where to get off or are you being met?” I responded by saying, “I need Stafford Train Station please, if you could let me know, when we reach that stop

 So off we set working our way through what I recall from my sighted days are pretty villages and nice country roads, inter-dispersed with short lengths of dual carriage way.

The ride was smooth, the bus emptied and filled it seemed most used the route for short trips,  it was also noticeable that the driver knew a lot of his passengers by name.

We passed through Armitage,, Rugley, Springfields,,Wolselye Bridge and so on into Stafford.

 The journey was pleasant, comfortable and amazingly stress free as I was encountering a totally new route, new bus company and so on, although I travel to Stafford often for meetings and usually arrive and leave by main line train which is very fast and comfortable,

 I could tell from the buzz on the bus that after almost 60 minutes of travel we were approaching Stafford, the build up in traffic, the increase in stop start events due tpo crossings and traffic light controlled junctions was a give away.

 I knew that the train station wasn’t far from the bus station if I wasn’t warned of my requested stop, but I need not have worried, as the bus stopped a couple of people left the service and the driver then called back to me saying, “This is Stafford railway station mate”, he was calm didn’t hurry me and he ensured that not only did I leave the bus safely ( he had when I boarded waited for me to sit down before moving) he ensure I knew where the entrance to the station was and offered to get me assistance if I wanted it, an offer I refused as I know the station well, but I made sure I thanked him for all of his help.

 It was a nice ride there was no hassle in using my free bus pass, nothing but praise for this driver and this service.

 RNIB stop for me speak to me details can be found at

http://www.rnib.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/gettingaround/buscampaign/Pages/bus_campaign.aspx

 

 

 

Great day with RNIB & Oxford bus Company

Stop for me, Speak to me

 

RNIB Bus campaign

http://www.rnib.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/gettingaround/buscampaign/Pages/bus_campaign.aspx

 

Swap Meet

 

 

 

On Wednesday 31st July 2013, RNIB staff, campaigners and members gathered in Oxfordshire.

We were there as part of the great Stop for me, Speak to me Bus Campaign, and out hosts was the Oxford Bus Company.

 

This is a regional company that in addition running local services offer airport and commuter services into London as well as park and ride schemes for the local council.

There was a bus to meet us as we gathered at Oxford Railway Station and which transferred us to the company’s garage outside of the town center.

It was thankfully a glorious day and we were able to meet drivers, instructors and senior managers in the yard / garage bay where a number of buses had been made available for both the drivers and the SVI (blind/ Partially sighted) to swap places and live in each others shoes for a short time.

 

The Oxford Bus company as part of its initial and ongoing training of staff uses various simulation specs to enlighten the staff, however, it would seem this was the first time they had been able to interact with actual disabled people and to ask questions.

 

I lost track of how many times as questions started with the words “ I don’t want to upset you but could I ask? Or “I don’t mean to be offensive but could I ask?”

 

It took a while for them to accept we are thick skinned and don’t offend easily (well most of us anyway)

Whilst we took the opportunity to sit in the drivers seat and try to talk to / understand passengers boarding, and this company doesn’t as a norm use anti-spit screens so there is less of a barrier it was still hard;

 Image

Figure 1Paul Bryce RNIB Trustee *drives a bus*

 Image

Figure 2 Still in the Yard but Paul is eager to go

 

For some reason, Paul who is congenitally blind wasn’t allowed to actually drive / move the bus, some matter about insurance I understand!! So the residents and visitors to Oxford were safe.

The crews were eager to learn about our world, how we cross the road (they didn’t know about the magic button) and with “fear & trepidation” bought some laughter too. They asked about dealing with cash machines and were fascinated by our Talking ATM success, they tried long cane and walking with a guide dog.

 

The bottom line for me

 

A very successful day where we all improved our mutual understanding of the challenges we face in our every days lives and I have little doubt the information gathered by the bus company will further improve the good service they already deliver for the benefit of VI and all passengers.

 

The Blind (SVI) and bus travel

 

Untold challenges in every day life)

 

 

Today along with other blind (sorry Seriously Visually Impaired) colleagues I have been riding the buses and gathering evidence with regards to the lack of understanding bus companies, drivers and other employees have of the daily challenges we face.

(please see http://www.rnib.org.uk/getinvolved/campaign/gettingaround/buscampaign/pages/stop4me.aspx)

We started the day from the center of Birmingham, which I had reached by using my local bus service, others used local trains but they were to all of us “familiar journeys” so were considered outside the scope of today’s challenge.

Why are we doing this? Well the EU passed a law requiring all bus drivers to have disability awareness training on an annual basis, OUR Government has elected to take the EU fudge option and differed the introduction of this regulation for the maximum 5 years, however, the Transport Minister has sated he will review that option later this year if there is evidence based complaints to overturn the desertion.

We had with the group a sighted guide who would operate and record what we encountered in an honest manner.

Our Journey started when we took the 900 service bus from Birmingham to Coventry, an express bus, but only as far as National Exhibition center and main line train station with connections to the Airport. which adjoin the railway station.

 

The first challenge was to find the bus stop we attended at the location provided by the journey planner but found 3 bus shelters, 2 bus stops each of which were used by multiple bus services, both those provided by the dominant carrier (National Express Bus) and its smaller rivals.

Our first challenge was locating the bus stop and boarding the service no 900 (express bus) which was a misleading sales term;

In Digbeth the footpath is very narrow there are 3 bus shelters, 2 bus stops and numerous (more than 10) buses that are designated to stop there.

I thought I was stood at the right spot with my bus hailer system clearly showing 900, that was until a member of the public sought confirmation of the bus I wished to catch and politely told me I was standing 40 feet from where I needed to be, he guided me to the right spot, and shortly afterwards the bus arrived, stopped virtually in front of me lowered the platform (nodding) so it was easier for me to board. The driver spoke confirmed the bus number and that it went to me desired destination, and that of course he would let me know when I was there.

A few stops later we had a crew driver no 1 was clearly heard updating the relief driver re my request.

The bus was noisy crowded and dirty (waste food and cans on the floor) but we arrived at the NEC after one “express” route along the bye pass otherwise we stopped at every shadow along the way.

There was no indication from our new driver to advise us of the fact we had arrived at our destination and we left the bus late (as others started to board) he confirmed we were at the NEC no apology for forgetting us and no real help in location our next bus service, only the words” somewhere over the other side, mate”

We crossed the road, like all blind, sorry SVI, people with great care and trepidation, finding our stop which was sonly serviced by 3 services easily.

A short time afterward a bus arrived 966 which were to take us (Express) to Solihull.

The driver spoke with a heavy eastern European accent; it took several attempts to establish that he driving a 966 bus but that it was operated by VIP services not National Express.

This not so express service took us all around housing estates where the roads I am told were too narrow for two cars to pass side, bye side, but we eventually arrived in a clean and differently configured bus which had seat belts (lap straps) for all seats in Solihull but again the driver failed to advise us of our arrival.

After a short food and comfort break ( we had been travelling more than 2 hours so far) we sought out the no 37 bus for our return to Birmingham. On this and only this occasion did our sighted observer/ guide cheat and direct us to the relevant stop as the bus(37) was due to leave.

An Inspector asked us to wait as they had some issues, and a few minutes later we were allowed to board, As I swiped my pass, I sought confirmation from the driver, as no greeting or  route information had been offered, that it was a number 37 bus, I was stunned to hear him say “no it’s a 73” I question if its destination was Birmingham, he confirmed this but pointed out that a no 37 leaving from around the corner took half the time to get to Birmingham that he did.

We left and waited around the corner as it was we are told advertised that this was a bus every 5 minutes.

We were amongst the last to board and the driver responded to our questions re Birmingham as his destination and that it was a no 37, this information wasn’t offered to clearly SVI passengers.

Young people occupied the disabled seats and were in no mood to relinquish them this was our first encounter with a single decked bus and we all had issues locating the card reader, and again little or no help other then, “left a bit, right a bit, etc” was offered.

Shortly after leaving the bus stopped and we again encountered a change of crew, our observer noted that there was no interaction between drivers re the SVI passengers who were trying to get to Birmingham and need to be informed of their destination.

 

We left the bus early (Birmingham outdoor Market) and took the train home.

Conclusion

The service is reliable in that it turns up and transports the masses for a reasonable fare

However

  • We marked many things and on a scale of 1-10 where 1 was poor there were numerous 0-4 scores recorded.
  • Either the drivers are no disability aware or are too busy/ lazy to adhere to company policy on treating the disabled.
  • The Government is complacent over disability training and it should as a matter of urgency impose not only the EU requirements but stronger (with teeth) regulations that really do empower the disabled to sue public transport, it would reduce mental health and other NHS costs caused by loneliness and isolation.
  • Services advertised as express should be that and not stop at every shadow along the highway to drop or collect passengers. Speed and comfort are important to entice people onto the bus services and to retain them.
  • That the removal of RTI systems from bus shelters accessed by the RNIB react system ensured we had time table and location information. The current totem poles offer real time text information and the service numbers of buses using that stop, all of which is useless for the SVI customer.
  • The signs identifying the actual bus stop are too small and should be the size of one of the windows, to advertise whats on offer and to ensure that there is no doubt which stop one is waiting at.

Tomorrow its Oxfords turn, Thursday Stafford/ Stoke on Trent and Friday we are back in Birmingham

If you are interested in this work, and especially if you are a Bus Company executive, an MP or parish / local Councillor, please come and walk a mile ion MY shoes, understand the daily challenges we face and the clear and present danger we encounter when doing what most of you take for granted.

Hate or Mate crime the Police dont want to know?

Hate or Mate Crime?

 

When hate crime was first discussed it was always it would seem associated with racial crimes.

The disabled, the elderly the vulnerable have or are subjected to all forms of abuse from the minor jostling, to stealing their benefits on pay day, physically or mentally abusing them etc.

 

Isnt it a little surprising then when you contact6 your local Police Force to speak to some one on the “hate Crime Unit” to be asked “Whats That?” or to be told “We don’t have one of them”

 

So just how seriously is your local Police force, your Police & Crime Commissioner taking what is now often referred to as “Mate crime” as well as “Hate crime”

 

These specialist units are as important to the public and for the public security as say the specialist Child Protection or serious sexual crimes units.

 

Todays challenge is, Does your Force have a hate crimes unit? If not how do they record Hate crime or would they rather not report it and hope it will go away.

 

Too many people are hurt or take their own lives due to Hate crime and bullying so lets start to ask the PCC and the Chief Constable about what their perceptions are? How is it recorded and reported? Its time we forced this issue and stepped them getting away with it