Sep 062019
 

In July I attempted to catch the Caledonian Sleeper to Aberdeen. I failed because they hadn’t stowed the upper bunk in the accessible cabin, despite multiple attempts to do so.

In the middle of a discussion with the guard as to what to do (as a disabled person suddenly without accommodation hundreds of miles from home) I was interrupted by Euston Assistance staff member “Paul”. He repeatedly barracked me, in front of another passenger, for failing to meet him at the station mobility assistance meeting point. (I had specified to meet me at the lounge, which I visited for the shower.)

I later complained about his attitude. Network Rail stated that all assistance users must meet at the assistance reception. I found that not credible given that Network Rail offer assistance entering the station – how can somebody get that assistance if they have to register at the assistance point in the station?

Network Rail then accused me of being abusive to the staff member.

I was astonished at this ad-hominem and unjustified attack. I have never been abusive to assistance staff, and I found the allegation abhorrent.

In the course of ensuing conversations, Network Rail accidentally released internal correspondence showing that it was Euston station manager Joe Hendry who had made the allegation:

their recollection was that they were approached by Mr Paulley who was very abusive to the member of staff. … He was told that we weren’t informed and then told our member od staff to go away …
We successful assist approximately 100k customers a year without incident and will not accept abusive behaviour from passengers and after this incident we have reviewed our processes and feel that we need to introduce the option of our staff to have access to body worn cameras to avoid situations like this or indeed just to get a record of what happened form their side.

(Typos in the original)

Joe Hendry, Station Manager, made the above allegations based solely on the account of the staff member involved, against my account and without seeking any third party evidence from e.g. the train manager whose conversation he interrupted.

I threatened libel action. Happily, I had the whole interaction recorded.

Transcript:

> Sleeper Manager: The managers up in Inverness. They say there’s two things they can do. They can can get you booked on the service another day and get you a taxi home.
> Mr Paulley: Taxi home to Wetherby, North Yorkshire?
> Sleeper Manager: Is that’s home for you?
> Mr Paulley: Yeah I came down from Wetherby specifically to do this tonight.
> Sleeper Manager: Oh OK.
> Paul: Mr Paulley?
> Mr Paulley: Yes?
> Paul: I’ve been waiting for.. (unclear)
> Mr Paulley: Yeah, I was up in the First Class Lounge. I was in the First Class Lounge.
> Paul: Yeah that’s OK, but I didn’t know where you are. (unclear)
> Mr Paulley: Yeah, I did tell them that I had booked assistance.
> Paul: (unclear)
> Mr Paulley: I told them that I was, when I phoned up to book assistance, I said “meet me at the first class lounge”.
> Paul: (unclear)
> Mr Paulley: Well that’s not my fault, is it?
> Paul: (unclear)
> Mr Paulley: Yeah. I was where I said I would be when I booked assistance, which was the first class lounge. Now please leave me alone.
> Sleeper Manager: Or we can get you booked…

I don’t see how that can be characterised as “abusive”. Neither could Network Rail’s route manager, who eventually responded:

If this video is an accurate gauge of the tone of all the interactions you had with our staff at Euston on that day,then I do not think it shows evidence of “unprofessionar behaviour by our staff member. I equally do not think it shows evidence of you being “abusive.”
As a result having reviewed the available evidence, I would like to retract and apologise for, the use of the word “abusive” from the earlier response to you by Simon Evans. This descriptor is not supported by the evidence I have seen.

So much for staff needing body-worn cameras to protect them against malicious allegations made by members of the public. I shall continue to record such interactions to protect MYSELF from malicious allegations, particularly when senior station staff such as Mr Hendry swallow and relay staff accusations against contrary accounts and without seeking third party evidence.

Meanwhile the ICO responded on the use of body worn cameras, saying there would need to be a “clear and pressing social need” for such to be justified; and Network Rail’s Data Protection Officer stated there’s no current proposal to introduce such. And rail regulator Office of Rail and Road has considered my

point about Network Rail requesting that passengers report to the assistance reception desk at Euston station when they have booked, or require to book assistance, even though their current DPPP states their assistance is available to help passengers entering any of their managed stations. … As part of the policy approval process we will ensure this details exactly what assistance is available at Euston station and how to get it, thus eliminating the inconsistency in the information you have identified.

I caught the Sleeper again on Monday. I booked assistance to meet me at the shower lounge, which didn’t happen. I therefore went to the registration point, where staff were not expecting me, despite my booking. Staff asked me to wait 20 minutes, which I did whilst 5+ staff hung around and chatted amongst themselves, to the exclusion of passengers waiting for assistance. They eventually asked me to make my own way to the platform, where station staff would assist me onto the train. Station staff didn’t turn up, so the train staff helped me on.

I think the learning points of this are:

  1. Maybe don’t bother booking assistance for the Sleeper at Euston, they are so dilatory it may be easier simply to ignore them and rely on train staff. Booking simply resulted in extra stress, being shouted at and libeled in my case, to no benefit.
  2. Take a camera, record and keep all the things, because some staff evidently make up allegations against passengers and managers unquestioningly accept station staff’s allegations without seeking corroboration.

All extra stress only experienced by disabled people with assistance needs…

Apr 262019
 

There’s something perverse about running out of mobile battery whilst sitting in a wheelchair or scooter with huge batteries. Various commercial products bridge that gap; the best of which is Cripple Concepts’ charger. These plug into the charging port on an electric wheelchair and provide a turbo USB charging socket.

These products suffer from some limitations however. Many of them (notably NOT Cripple Concepts’) give out too little power to charge a modern mobile phone. Many of them are expensive (CC’s $40 isn’t bad.)

It’s comparitively easy to create your own charger that is more powerful and versatile, and cheaper. You don’t need to know any electronics to do it either – if you can solder a wire onto a pin you can make this.

wheelchairdriver.com shows how to create such a USB adapter. I found his instructions invaluable (and wouldn’t have been able to make mine without them), but I have concerns about his creation. The first is heat dissipation: if doing similar with a high power charger, sufficient heat may be generated within the USB adapter to cause it to fail. I also think the connection to the adapter may not be robust enough to survive use and abuse. I would prefer a more powerful rapid charger. Also I would prefer a more “universal” product with e.g. 2+ USB sockets (and that also applies to the Cripple Concepts’ one.)

There’s an alternative, clunkier solution:

It’s clunky but cheap, powerful and useful.

The charger doesn’t stop the wheelchair being driven, like plugging the wheelchair in does. It has a negligible effect on the wheelchair batteries. My wheelchair has two 72 amp hour batteries and my mobile battery is 3.3 amp hours. So it can be used pretty much as much as you like without concern.

Parts needed:

1) “Neutrik” / XLR microphone plug.

Any will do. They are about £3 on eBay.

2) Cigarette lighter inline socket.

The cheapest way to get one of these is to buy a cigarette lighter extension and cut off / discard the plug end. However, I have discovered that those sockets aren’t very robust so break quickly. I advise against getting this very common socket:

Try to get one of these less common but more robust sockets:

They are about £4-5 if you shop around.

3) A cigarette lighter USB adapter of your choice. But NB: the adapter must work with 24 volts, not just 12 volts.

I use one that has two Qualcomm Quick Charge 3 USB sockets. This is about £2 delivered on eBay.

Solder the wires from the cigarette lighter socket to pins 1 and 2 of the Neutrik plug, as described on wheelchairdriver.com.

Strengthen the wire if you want, using heat shrink, hot glue or whatever. I also cable tie it to the wheelchair cable that runs to the control / joystick module, for extra strength and convenience. That way it’s always at hand.

Put the USB adapter in the cigarette lighter socket. That’s it, really, all done.

The only thing I also did however, is to find a way to keep the USB adapter into the socket. Reason being that otherwise it tends to work loose over time, which is frustrating – I’d discover my phone hadn’t been charging when I thought it was. Pushing the charger back into the socket does the trick until next time it works loose.

Over time I’ve discovered the best way is to use a metal bodied USB adapter something like this:

Metal USB cigarette lighter adapter

 

With a pair of pliers, I simply squeeze the body of this to deform it enough that it bulges and jams into the cigarette lighter socket. This is remarkably robust.

Previously, I drilled a hole through the cigarette lighter socket and the USB adapter (carefully, to avoid damaging its internal circuit board) and put a cable tie through. Otherwise you could glue the adapter into the socket etc. But this is a pfaf.

To use it: plug the Neutrik plug into the charging socket on the wheelchair. The USB sockets are now live and can be used for anything USB. In my case this is charging my phone, my Go Pro camera and/or my battery banks, and running a USB fan (I recommend the “Key Nice” fan below from Amazon) and/or Christmas fairy lights.

To charge the chair, simply unplug the USB charger and plug in the wheelchair charger.

Jan 112019
 

Today we won two cases against London Underground, over their failure to effectively promulgate information about lift closures and alternative step-free routes for disabled people.

Westminster

Video of Westminster lift closure incident

In October 2016, I attempted to get from Westminster to Kings Cross but was thwarted as both the lift at the main entrance and the alternative lift at Canon Row were out of order. Signs still directed people to the entrance on Canon Row, despite this lift having been out of order for a number of days.

Kings Cross

In May 2017, I traveled by Underground to Kings Cross station, to discover that the lift to the surface was out of order. No warning had been given at any other station, and the response station staff gave to my plea for help was inadequate.

Judgment

District Judge Troy gave judgment today, 10th January 2018. The following are extracts from my notes of his judgment. Whilst I am satisfied they are substantially accurate, they are not a verbatim record from the transcript (which I shall order.)

Westminster

In the circumstances, the defendant was in breach of its duty to make reasonable adjustments in respect to deficiencies in signage directing people requiring step-free access to Canon Row lift as opposed to the entrance via Westminster Pier. … In respect of the Westminster case, there has been a breach of the defendant’s obligations. …

The detriment was limited, but was not solely the time wasted going down to Canon Row entrance, but also to bear in mind the frustration caused from the access being blocked, and at that point being left uncertain as to what other options available to him. Although he didn’t have a specific train, this would be a legitimate source of annoyance, no different to an able bodied person sent on a wild goose chase. This would result in frustration, and doubly so for Mr Paulley as a wheelchair user. …

Service users doesn’t have to experience actual loss in order to experience detriment, it is enough that they would prefer to be treated differently.

Kings Cross

In respect of the King’s Cross incident, it is clear that this was notified on the website … Travel on the Tube is a very different scenario compared to mainline or air, where it may be a reasonable expectation for a traveller to check in advance whether services affected, especially if some general experience of difficulties, e.g. travelling on Northern Rail on a Saturday morning, or the recent impact on Gatwick airport caused by a drone. That’s all very well in those circumstances, but any one individual traveller using the Tube may undertake several tube journeys in any one day, of varying length from 1-2 stops or longer. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any traveller, able-bodied or not, to consult a website. What is needed is something more to alert the traveller at point of access.

The defendant contends that staff resources and communication make the use of whiteboards difficult and the information liable to be out of date, and that this produces bigger problems for travellers, especially to disabled travellers, who may need to commit greater diversions unnecessarily. The defendant contends that Electronic Service Update Boards (ESUBs) are updated regularly, but I already observed that regarding the Kings Cross incident these were not updated until after 16pm, though the original failure was at 0640. I have my doubts as to how promptly these ESUBs are updated. However, if the information on the ESUB is to be accessed, it requires travellers to sit in front of a screen whilst it scrolls through, without any knowledge that relevant information will be displayed. It may take only 9 seconds to scroll through, but it requires the traveller to locate the ESUB. It can be particularly difficult to navigate a station concourse, especially at peak times, for wheelchair users. …

It is not onerous to the defendant to post whiteboards, so as to be of particularly assistance to the disabled community, in the 12 stations with step-free access in Zone 1.

The alternative arrangements the defendant put in hand did not amount to reasonable adjustments to avoid the situation. …

This alternative option (of assistance up the escalator) should have been offered at the outset, avoiding the distress felt by the defendant in waiting on the platform in uncertainty and with the train deadline. … The defendant had adopted an intransigent attitude in initial dealing with the claimant, in making it clear that the only alternative offered was to take the tube to Caledonian Road and a bus back. The claimant specifically questioned alternatives, including the fireman’s lift or face to face assistance, but this was not explored.

My decision may have resource implications for the defendant, but if the defendant is to comply with its obligations to make reasonable adjustments, individual employees should be identified and trained to provide such assistance to wheelchair users, especially at major stations and especially those answering emergency call points. They need task cards and their training updated to offer alternative mechanisms of egress.

Regarding Kings Cross, the detriment was more serious. … I am unimpressed by the handling of the incident by the operative, which increased the claimant’s frustration. Although a solution found, there was a period in which the claimant experienced detriment and worry.

Judicial comment

I therefore make observations (not intended to modify the judgment or understanding of the law) on future expectations regarding the defendant due to resource implications.

On the methodology of notifying incidents affecting travellers, I have come to the view that the use of any one is mechanism is insufficient, and in respect of the facts all three are found to be wanting. ESUBs must be updated immediately on discovery of lift failures. As regards communication via the website, given that passengers may undertake tube journeys on a daily basis, perhaps several times a day, it is impractical for the defendant to rely on the website to comply with its obligations because it is impracticable for users to consult the website before every journey. What is required is a combination of these mechanisms. For wheelchair and pushchair users, the practical solution is to provide some further information at the point of access at the 12 stations with step-free access in Zone 1. To the extent that the defendant is concerned that whiteboards employed to this purpose aren’t easily kept updated, all that needs to happen is to say that there has been an incident notified, please check the website or ESUB before traveling further. If adopted, this procedure would alleviate problems for the traveling public, and would not in any way place an unreasonable burden on defendant’s resources.

The judge also made the point that I am clearly more interested in the point of principle than in damages.

Doug’s comment

It’s an indictment in itself that it took 2+ years in court to reach this point. The circumstances of both incidents speak for themselves. TfL personnel’s sloppy lack of adherence to those procedures and standards designed to minimise disabled people’s inconvenience is shameful and unacceptable; and I am amazed and disturbed that TfL would spend so long, and so much money, fighting to defend such behaviour.

TfL have clear procedures as to what they can and should do to warn disabled people about lift failures. Procedures that they didn’t follow at two key step-free interchanges – King’s Cross (the busiest station on the Underground) and Westminster (right next to the houses of Parliament.) If they don’t follow them there, then what chance have we that they will follow them elsewhere?

TfL refused my multiple offers to settle out of court, stating:

Previous indications were that London Underground Limited (LUL) was very unlikely to offer any money, money having been paid in the past without stopping claims (LUL of course recognises that you are entitled to pursue your legal rights, while it may take a different view as to whether they have in fact been infringed); I have no reason to suppose that this view would have changed. Further, while LUL believes that (putting it broadly) it strives to make things better for disabled users of its services, there is no sensible way LUL can guarantee that, with the best will in the world, it will never slip up in future.

I had concerns about TfL’s adherence to previous agreements:

I am always open to discussion. My issue is that in response to previous such discussions, London Underground made promises / took actions which they didn’t keep up. Take, for example, the Tube accessibility update guidance London Underground composed in 2011, following out of court discussion with me.
So whilst I am prepared to take part in potential out-of-court action, I do need to have some form of assurance that I won’t be re-inventing the wheel.

I am really sad that TfL spent so much time, money and other resources fighting this indefensible discrimination case.

I very much hope that in future they adhere properly to suitable procedures for disseminating information and taking action when lifts break, such that other disabled people don’t go through what I did.

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