Quantifying kindness in #Leeds

It couldn’t last, could it? Thant wonderful feeling I shared with so many on my Twitterstream last night as we were inspired by the Paralympics Opening Ceremony. A feeling that we can be more than we are, that we can be proud to stand up and shout that we want rights, not charity, that we can reach for the stars rather than look down at our feet. That we are Spasticus Autisticus, and we are proud.

I came down to earth with a bump today. I’m traveling to London to attend the Social Innovation Camp today, where I’m lucky enough to have been asked to come and speak as a panelist.

For people with disabilities, travel is difficult. Access is patchy, at best, and a small thing can throw travel arrangements into disarray.

My taxi came to pick me up from my home and bring me to the railway station. The taxi driver was going to be trouble, I could tell. First words out of his mouth were

“You want me to put that in the car? This isn’t a disabled taxi” (he was talking about my mobility scooter. It separates into parts and fits comfortably in even small boots.

I thought ‘no, I want you to tow it to the station’ (I think in sarcastic, sometimes) but I said “yes please, I’ll separate it and if you could please put the parts in the boot.”

He grumbled, but he did it, and we set off. The next thing he said was:

“Why don’t you drive that scooter to the railway station? Look, it’s easy, you can go on all these footpaths, no problem.”

I didn’t reply. The dropped kerbs on my route to town are irregular, and I have found myself scooting on the inner ring road before because I wasn’t able to get back up onto the footpath. Besides, my scooter doesn’t go very far without another charge, and I need to reserve my charge for my travel across London at the other end of the journey. Besides, dammit, why should I have to explain myself to the taxi driver? And why would he be so keen to not have the business, anyway? Rights, not charity, I thought to myself, and neglected to answer. I chose to ask him about the roads today instead.

“Big accident in town. Traffic backed up” he replied.

Great. I’m going to miss the train if I don’t get there in time. Quite apart from the requirement that I should be at any station from which I want to travel at least 20 minutes before the time of departure, and even then there’s no guarantee that the ramps will be in place. Sometimes, trains have just left me on the platform when I have been trying to get on. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Sheffield.)

I amused myself by noticing during the journey that a man was stood next to a completely impassable pavement, where work on the pipes beneath the surface meant there was no alternative for people but to walk on the road. Of course, there was no dropped kerb in sight. I wondered if he was from the Council and was going to address the issue with the service company. I found it funny in the context of being told by the taxi driver how accessible it was.

Sure enough, some kind of problem with the traffic flow meant we had to take a big detour, and I mentioned to the taxi driver that I was anxious about catching my train. He did his best to get me there, and miracles of miracles, we arrived with time to spare.

“How much do I owe you?” I asked. I could see the fare was £5.50. “And can I have a receipt, please? Would you make it up for £6, to include a tip, please?”

“Sorry love, the fare is £7.50. I charge extra for the scooter.”

“No, the fare is £5.50. I’m offering a tip to bring it up to £6. I’m not paying you £7.50 when the meter clearly says the fare is £5.50”

“Bloody Disabled” he said.

I was shocked.

“Today, I won’t charge the extra. But I won’t take you again. You should always go in a disabled taxi.”

“But I don’t need a disabled taxi. My scooter fits in your boot. What’s the difference if I have suitcases or if I have a scooter? Do you charge extra to transport suitcases?”

He got out of the car, and got the bits of the scooter out of the boot. He got back into the car to watch me put the pieces together. It’s not easy for me to do this, and it takes quite a bit of time, and makes me quite shaky and in more pain than I need to be.

I’m afraid I couldn’t resist saying “I hope you and the people you love never become disabled and have to cope with this sort of thing. Did you hear about that case in Bradford where the taxis have got into trouble for charging extra to people that are disabled?”

He said nothing.

I scooted to the platform. I missed the train by two minutes.

I was brimming with tears, the “Bloody Disabled” comment was ringing in my ears. This is how they think of me, those people who previously were so kind.

I always use the same taxi company. I’ve used them for ten years, exclusively. Most of the drivers have been kind to me, particularly when I was heavily pregnant and working and getting a taxi home a lot after being exhausted working on the wards. Clear as day, I remember the day I got the phone call that my Grandad had died. I left work, and cried all the way home in the taxi. The cabbie refused to take any money from me. I don’t forget that kindness easily.

My question is, how many times do I experience something like this before I change my cab firm allegiance, and they lose my (quite substantial) business?

p.s. Train station staff were great and I’m on the next train.

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