Disability football coach with cerebral palsy says public transport companies must do more to accommodate disabled passengers

A passionate aspiring journalist and disability football coach, Joe Skinner, who has cerebral palsy, says public transport companies need to do more to help wheelchair-bound and other disabled people feel more welcome on buses and taxis.
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Joe, from Padiham, a casual coach at Burnley FC in the Community on the group’s Disability Sport Project, contacted the Burnley Express because he wanted to highlight the difficulties himself and many others in a similar situation face when trying to use buses.

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

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Joe, currently in his final year of a Multimedia Sports Journalism degree at UCFB Etihad in Manchester, said: “Picture this, you attempt to board the bus only to be told that you are only allowed on if you can sit at a certain side. How would that make you feel? This is the reality for many wheelchair users not only in the Burnley area but across the country.

Joe receiving an award from Burnley FC chairman Alan PaceJoe receiving an award from Burnley FC chairman Alan Pace
Joe receiving an award from Burnley FC chairman Alan Pace

“To provide a bit of background to the story I am an electric wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and in 2020 I decided to challenge myself by learning how to go on the bus independently. Until this point I had barely gone through the door on my own before due to a lack of confidence and anxiety when crossing roads, so it felt great to be able to push past those fears and enjoy a newfound sense of freedom. My mum drove me everywhere prior to this so it also took some of the pressure off her as she is my full-time carer.

“Unfortunately though I quickly began to realise the buses in the local area are not fit for purpose due to their inaccessibility. There is a specific area within the bus that a wheelchair must go. But here’s the thing. It's not accessible. There is a fixed pole in the middle of the bus which prevents you from getting your wheelchair into the space.

“For this reason myself and other wheelchair users that I know chose to sit in the pram bay area on the Mainline buses only to be later told that we are not allowed to do so by the people at Burnley Bus Company, run by Transdev. There are only three services in the entire station that don't have this fixed obstruction which apparently is there for safety purposes in case of a crash, but doesn't this defeat the object if you are unable to get in that area?

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

“An article was written in this very paper last year which found that nine in 10 private hire taxis in the Burnley area could not accommodate wheelchair users. The ones that do charge almost double. On average it costs me between 180 and £240 a month to get to work. To put this into perspective I work five hours a week.

“Thankfully I get help with this from the great people at Burnley FC in the Community through Premier League funding, but this will only last so long as they are charity themselves and rely on funding.

“I love my job as a casual football coach on their disability sport project, a project I came through myself as a participant. Impacting the lives of other disabled people in a positive way is something that I am deeply passionate about and want to be able to continue to do.

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“Alongside this, like many other students I face employment uncertainty upon completion of my university course.

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

“We should be empowering disabled people by doing everything we can to help them find and sustain employment not putting barriers in their way.

“I have held onto the hope that a resolution can be found but recently the situation has become pretty final on Transdev’s part.

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“Apparently there is nothing they can do as the buses in operation meet the regulations. According to them it is not as simple as removing the pole as it is in place for structural purposes as well as safety but they have passed on my comments to the manufacturer. That’s alright then…

“The Equality Act and regulations are continually used as a scapegoat to avoid making change. Time after time companies throw the “We are meeting the regulations” statement out there refusing to see the bigger picture. It appears that whoever is in charge of making these decisions just thinks we will stick that there and put that there and it will be fine without actually consulting the people who those decisions affect.

“I think they were expecting me to give up by now, but it has been nearly 18 months since the issues were highlighted and I'm still here. I'm not going anywhere.

“It is 2022 and wheelchair users still can't get on a bus like everyone else. This needs to change. To quote a famous Mancunian singer: “How long’s it gonna be before you get on the bus and cause no fuss?” except in this case the fuss isn't of our own making.