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Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike Forced To Wet Herself On Train Without Accessible Toilet

January 3, 2017

An award-winning Paralympic athlete and disabilities campaigner says she was “completely robbed of her dignity” after a train company failed to provide an accessible toilet on a three-hour journey.

Anne Wafula Strike, 42, a British wheelchair racer who has no use of her legs, is a board member of UK Athletics, has an MBE for services to disability sport and serves as a patron of several charities supporting the rights of people with disabilities.

The Kenyan-born athlete said she was left profoundly humiliated after being left to urinate on herself on a CrossCountry train, covering her face with her hoodie after the incident in case anyone recognised her.

“I was completely robbed of my dignity by the train company,” she said. “I would like to ask the train company when will they give me my dignity back? As a disabled person I have worked so hard over the years to build up my confidence and self-belief.

“Having access to a toilet, especially in a developed nation like the UK, is one of the most basic rights. I tried to conceal the smell of urine by spraying perfume over myself. When I finally got home after my nightmare journey, I scrubbed myself clean in the shower then flung myself on my bed and sobbed for hours.”

She added: “After thinking about it for a while I decided to go public despite the personal humiliation of doing so in the hope that it will bring about change for other people with disabilities who want to contribute to society but are prevented from doing so. Too many people with disabilities suffer in silence when this kind of thing happens because they feel too embarrassed to talk about it.

“The whole incident made me feel as if I can’t play an active role in society and should just hide behind closed doors. Being forced to sit in my own urine destroyed my self-esteem and my confidence.

“People with disabilities don’t want perfection, we just want the basics and to have our independence. But lack of access and inclusive facilities make us feel as if we are an afterthought.”

 

The incident happened when Wafula Strike was returning from a UK Athletics board meeting in Coventry on 8 December. She took a taxi from Coventry to Nuneaton station and from there boarded the 17.22pm CrossCountry train to Stansted airport, where she could catch a connecting train to her home town of Harlow. On the journey, which is usually scheduled to last two hours and 48 minutes, she needed to use the toilet but found that the accessible one was out of order.

“If the able-bodied toilet had been closer I could have tried to crawl to it but it was too far away and my wheelchair could not fit in the aisles to get to it,” she said.

A member of the train crew suggested she could get off the train when it stopped at a station, use the disabled toilet there and wait for the next train. This would have delayed her journey home but in the event there were no staff at the station to help her so she was unable to get off the train.

She tweeted the train company’s customer service team to complain and in a series of exchanges Wafula Strike became increasingly distressed.

 

Wafula Strike said she felt she had to speak out to expose some of the injustice faced by people living with disabilities.

“I’ll probably be remembered as that woman who wet herself on the train. I could have kept quiet but I hope that by speaking out other wheelchair users who use public transport won’t be subjected to the same experience I had.

“I may have an impairment but the barriers society puts in my path are the real handicap. The UK Athletics meeting I had just attended was so positive – all about success and medals and athletics superstars and then this happened. UK Athletics has always gone out of its way to ensure that the board meetings are held in accessible venues but other organisations need to do the same so people like me can play our part in society.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, expressed concern about the incident.

“The courts are starting to take cases like this very seriously,” she said. “Not only the lack of access but also the injury to feeling that occurs. If Anne decides to take legal action we would be right behind her. No one should have to go through an experience like that. Access and inclusion need to be taken seriously. These things should not just be tick box exercises.”

A CrossCountry spokesman said: “We are extremely sorry for the circumstances of Mrs Strike’s recent journey with us, and our managing director has passed on our apologies to her along with an explanation of why it appears all our systems failed her on that day. We hope she will take up our offer and contact us in the new year so we can offer her a more pleasant experience of travelling with us.”

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2017 11:37 am

    Reblogged this on campertess.

  2. Sarah permalink
    January 3, 2017 12:55 pm

    Many trains do not even have an accessible toilet and on busy trains others are unreachable due to too many passengers such as over packed Tranpennine Express with people even trying to sit on top of you. Older trains have a few more years to meet full access requirements and even then some will have exemption certificates. Having access to a working loo is ideal but I have to assume there will not be one otherwise I would never get to meetings and appointments on time. Cross country have tried to stop me boarding my booked reserved space because the loo is out of order, without asking me if I would need it.
    Another time after being rerouted due to a closed line, the Cross Country train manager for the connecting train told the assistance staff not to board me. I crawled onboard dragging my chair to the vacant Ist class space,the other space already had a wheelchair user in it, and then they sent someone to try and remove me! I had a very valid First Anytime, any permitted route ticket, and as I was prepared for no loo, just needed to get home before I got a pressure ulcer with sitting too long. Being stranded hundreds of miles from home at night was not an option. They told a blind person that there were no
    seats available in first class which was untrue. After the train staff changed, the loo was no longer out of order. With so few wheelchair spaces, the next train was not likely to have a vacant space or working loo.
    A few weeks ago another wheelchair user was prevented boarding a Cross Country train at Leeds due to luggage in her booked space. Why couldn’t it be moved?

    Virgin East Coast recently tried to stop all wheelchair users using the space in First Class in their HST trains which make up half of their trains .because of no accessible loo and the fact of a rather narrow route. I have used this space for 20 years. I was told it was OK there would be new trains in 2 years time. Wheelchair Spaces on trains out of London are at a premium cutting those available in half would have meant I would have had to resign from a committee. The space does have huge issues,, but I get food and drink when I need
    it, and can work, and get to where I am going on time, with no excessive distance to travel down the platform at Kings Cross. The problems with the space are clearly stated on their web site and accessible travel booklet

    Many wheelchair users have bladder and bowel dysfunction. This can be both a hinderence and a help when travelling long distances, depending on how it is coped with. It is vital to have good professional help in learning to deal with it. Bowels can often be controlled for a journey with loperamide, an anti diarrhoea medication but it is not suitable for everyone. Those with Suprapubic or indwelling urethral catheters can put a catheter valve in the drainage system so you can connect a new bag or empty into a screw cap bottle. Knee drainage bags are available with a 1.5 L capacity. Those who use intermittent catheters may be able to use an indwelling catheter as a very temporary solution. Learning to use a intermittent catheter with drainage bag attached can prevent the need to transfer from your wheelchair, and sometimes the accessible loo space is available just not the loo. Those with urgent bladder need may prefer the safety of temporary using pads. The solutions are not idealand to a person who does not normally need to pads or having to use a much larger pad loss of dignity, but even using an accessible loo on a moving train is difficult for many.
    I do prefer travel on trains with working accessible loos, when I can drink freely, and cope with long train delays, without the humiliation of telling the train manager more than they wished to know,
    When loos are not working or not available on trains it is important we are told before we board but train staff should not dictate whether we should travel with them assuming our individual toilet needs.

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