I am writing this article on the way to be a guest speaker, representing Enhance the UK at the Local Government Agency Taxi Licencing Conference. For those of you who don’t know, the Local Government Agency are basically a politically-led, cross-party organisation that works with local councils to support, promote and improve local government.
As you may already know, Enhance the UK has its fingers in lots of pies, but I wanted to take the time to explain why we are interested in this one. Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles are essential for many disabled people as so often public transport isn’t accessible, and yet there are ongoing and frequent difficulties faced by disabled people when trying to use cabs. In fact, three quarters of people who have an assistance dog have had issues with access and so have two thirds of wheelchair users. I will let those stats sink in for a minute. I mean, really, we are in the 21st century…This shouldn’t be happening!
This is an area of difficulty that I myself have faced. Imagine having been to a funeral of someone close to you and then trying to get a taxi to the wake afterwards, but the taxi you ordered refuses to allow you to get in with your hearing dog so you have to wait over half an hour for another taxi to arrive. This made an already emotional situation much, much worse. If you have seen my dog, Ivy, you would know how silly this really is – she’s the size of a cat … in fact she’s smaller than my cat and I guarantee you that there would be fewer issues with her in a car than me after a night out! Another time I wasn’t able to hear and understand the driver who became flustered and stopped trying to ask the question he wanted to. He just drove to the venue and dropped me off. It turned out it was completely the wrong place. He had allowed his embarrassment to stop him from communicating with me. I could go on, but you get the picture!
Just last week, the second reading of the Disability Equality Training Bill was heard in Parliament. The bill aims to make attending Disability and Equality training a legal requirement for taxi and private hire vehicles to get their licence. This is really positive and something that we at Enhance the UK really support BUT many councils already require the drivers to undergo training before they can receive their licence, so what exactly is going wrong?
Let’s be honest here, standard Disability and Equality training isn’t the most engaging training in the world – in fact I have been to sessions that are simply down right boring. Not only that, delegates can have all the knowledge and factual information they could possibly need, but if they don’t have the confidence to put this into practice then it’s not helpful. Drivers need to have training that removes that ‘fear factor’ of saying and doing the wrong thing, and gives them the confidence to communicate effectively with disabled people about their needs. In order for Disability and Equality training to have the best impact, it’s essential that the training is delivered by disabled people themselves, is practical and focuses on communication techniques, etiquette and attitudes alongside the legal requirements, assistance dogs and how to use various equipment.
Not only is there a need for good quality training, but councils themselves need to do more to ensure that disabled people know how to complain should there be an issue. So many people I have spoken to simply haven’t known where to start and have eventually given up, chalking it down to another bad experience. Whilst this is happening, things simply won’t improve. Is it too much to ask to be able to book a private hire vehicle, or hail a cab, and not be worried about the service you will or won’t receive?!