Disabled football coach with cerebral palsy says public transport companies must do more to accommodate passengers with disabilities

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Joe, from Padiham, an occasional coach at Burnley FC in the community on the group’s disabled sport project, contacted the Burnley Express because he wanted to highlight the difficulties that he and many other people in a similar situation encounter when trying to use the buses.

Indeed, the obstacles Joe faces are such that his employers currently have to pay for taxis to get him to work.

Joe, currently in his final year of a multimedia sports journalism degree at UCFB Etihad in Manchester, said: “Imagine this, you’re trying to get on the bus only to be told you’re only allowed to get on if you can sit on a certain side. How would that make you feel? That’s the reality for many wheelchair users, not just in the Burnley area, but across the country.

Joe receiving an award from Burnley FC chairman Alan Pace

“To give some background to the story, I am an electric wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and in 2020 I decided to challenge myself by learning to ride the bus independently. by now i had barely walked through the door on my own due to a lack of confidence and anxiety when crossing roads, so it was great to be able to overcome those fears and enjoy a new sense of freedom My mum drove me everywhere before this so it also took some of the pressure off her as she is my full time carer.

“Unfortunately, I quickly began to realize that the buses in the area are not suitable for use due to their inaccessibility. There is a specific area inside the bus where a wheelchair must go. But here’s the thing. It’s not accessible. There’s a fixed pole in the middle of the bus that prevents you from getting your wheelchair into the space.

“For this reason, myself and other wheelchair users I know have chosen to sit in the buggy bay area on main line buses only to be told later that we are not not allowed to do so by the folks at Burnley Bus Company, run by Transdev. There are only three services in the whole station that don’t have this fixed barrier which is apparently there for safety reasons in the event of an accident. accident, but doesn’t that destroy the object if you fail to enter this area?

“I have been working with Burnley Bus Company and Transdev to try to resolve the issue. I have cooperated fully in not using Mainline buses and instead using taxis to get to work which has also been problem.

“An article was written in this same newspaper last year which found that nine out of 10 private taxis in the Burnley area could not accommodate wheelchair users. Those who charge almost double. On average, it costs me between £180 and £240 a month to get to work. To put that into perspective, I work five hours a week.

“Fortunately, I am getting help from the wonderful Burnley FC people in the community through Premier League funding, but that will only last as long as they are charitable themselves and dependent on funding.

“I love my job as an occasional football coach on their disabled sports project, a project I did myself as a participant. Having a positive impact on the lives of other disabled people is something which fascinates me deeply and which I want to be able to continue to do.

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“At the same time, like many other students, I face the uncertainty of employment at the end of my university course.

“This is amplified by the fact that there is a significant gap in the employment rate of disabled people compared to able-bodied people. The Office of National Statistics found that in 2021, 53.5% of disabled people aged 16-64 were in employment, compared to 81% of able-bodied people.

“We should empower people with disabilities by doing all we can to help them find and keep jobs, without putting obstacles in their way.

“I kept hoping that a solution could be found but recently the situation has become quite definitive on the part of Transdev.

“Apparently there is nothing they can do as the buses in service are within the regulations. According to them it is not as simple as removing the pole as it is in place for structural and safety purposes but they passed on my comments to the manufacturer. That’s good then…

“The Equality Act and its regulations are continually used as a scapegoat to avoid making changes. Time and time again, companies throw out the “We play by the rules” statement refusing to see the big picture. It seems like whoever is responsible for making these decisions just thinks we’re going to leave it there and put it there and we’ll be fine without consulting the people affected by these decisions.

“I think they expected me to quit now, but it’s been almost 18 months since the issues came to light and I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.

“It’s 2022 and wheelchair users still can’t get on a bus like everyone else. This must change. To quote a famous Mancunian singer: “How long will it be before you get on the bus and you’re not making a sound?” except that in this case, the fuss is not our fault.

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