Government announcement for workers to ‘walk’ or ‘cycle’ to work fails to account for the physically disabled

Government announcement for workers to 'walk' or 'cycle' to work fails to account for the physically disabled

Dayne Martin, a current script researcher for Holby City and former BBC journalist talks about the lack of inclusivity of the government’s new push to get workers back into their jobs.

When Grant Shapps took to the podium last weekend, I knew we were going to be getting some ‘big’ announcement on transport. After all, we had only seen Mr Shapps a couple of times since lockdown began, so this was going to be important, at least in his eyes. I thought it was going to be about social distancing on transport. On the face of it, it was, but if you delve a little deeper and have a disability, it was actually far more sinister. 

The Transport Secretary pledged £2bn to “make a once in a generation change… and put cycling and walking at the heart,” of Britain’s transport policy.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

But the problem is, it fails to consider those who can’t walk or cycle. In this context, it excludes the physically disabled, who can and do work, in one swinging strike of the government axe.

As someone with a disability, I immediately felt like the government was telling me and my mum, who worked so hard to keep me alive and bring me up, that after 32 years, my place in society no longer mattered; that when lockdown is over I should put up, shut up, and stay indoors. Only the liberal eco warriors, cyclists and walkers matter.

Mr Shapps needs to realise, that many of us with physical impairments have no choice but to use taxis to get to and from work. The alternatives to cycling and walking, i.e. the much heralded public transport network, is not fit for purpose for those with disabilities, and will probably never be.

Just 71 of London’s 270 Underground stations have step-free access. One in four. But it’s much worse, because ‘step free’ access doesn’t actually mean, “whey-hay I can get on the tube”, it simply means you can access the platform. There is still the gap to the train, and advance help or equipment, is far from always available. I, from where I live could never start a journey, because my nearest stations are not step free. They are old and victorian.

I immediately felt like the government was telling me and my mum, who worked so hard to keep me alive and bring me up, that after 32 years, my place in society no longer mattered.
Dayne Martin

The bus network on paper is much better, I’m not going to deny that. But in practice…

I would have to leave home some three hours before needing to get to work, as a journalist at the BBC in Portland Place. It would take a 20-minute wheel in my powered chair, to the bus stop. When it arrives, I may well not be allowed on said bus by the driver, just because, or because the disability spaces have been taken up by parents with buggies, or persons with their shopping trolleys (none of this accounts for the fact that I could run out of battery power in my chair).

You might well be outraged at this, but I have encountered many people who refuse to move out of spaces, despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling. A member of the ignorant public doesn’t care about that and in fairness, drivers do not have the time or inclination to enforce. So before the government wax lyrical about the ‘green revolution’ they enforce these rules.

Talking of the “green revolution”, this idea that electric-powered vehicles are going to save the environment, is nonsense. All it does is push the environmental issues down the road. You replace fossil fuels, with where to dispose of batteries at the end of their life, but also how friendly is plundering the seabed for cobalt required in batteries, going to be for our eco-systems? I’m not saying we should all use fossil fuels and to hell with the world, but we should consider those with no choice and think of a truly sustainable idea for all, rather than the first idea that comes along.

I have predominantly worked as a journalist within BBC News. I’ve worked in some fantastic teams and had great experiences, but tokenistic behaviour like that illustrated by the government’s transport policy, helps to reinforce siloism by employers. Whilst I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given over the years, I have applied for over 100 posts, most of which I know I would be capable of fulfilling. The vast majority of these I never got an interview for, and of the jobs I have taken in my entire career, only two, I can say for sure were based purely on merit, as every other post has been gained through having to join schemes only open to those with disabilities. Whilst positive discrimination has its merits, I have found that it has a much darker side.

Throughout my years in BBC News I have experienced two separate episodes of bullying and intimidation. While I won’t go into those, it is my belief that tokenistic government policies or positive discrimination, actually helps to feed these bullies and their perceptions, as it creates this backdrop that we aren’t capable and are only there as the hired help, and so are easy to take advantage of.

The point I am trying to make is that the government and society at large needs to think carefully about the decisions they make that will affect everybody’s life, not just one section, or we and they risk feeding the monster of discrimination and isolationism.

This blog is part of PressPad Remote, a programme of activities to support aspiring journalists during the pandemic. Be sure to keep up to date with PressPad by subscribing to our newsletter here.