One of ENIL’s allies – Michael Holden from Northern Ireland – shares his experience of discrimination in the following article. Have you gone through anything similar?
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“I travel frequently for my business and this covers planes, trains, ferries, buses and automobiles in towns and cities around the world. Yet only in my home city of Belfast have I ever been told that I have to pay extra for taking my wheelchair with me!
Yes you read that right and what is even more insulting is that this has been agreed with the local office of the Equality Commission here in Northern Ireland. However, there is a caveat to these extra charges; they must not be applied if they are to carry passengers to or from an airport, ferry port or railway station. I don’t know why this is, but it is.
So what is it that I am referring to? Well, it is the local taxi companies here and whilst the locals are aware of these extra charges, visitors most certainly are not.
In a recent experiment we conducted a survey of taxi services by asking for a taxi to take us from City Hall to various places in Belfast. These places were targeted as it was a request to go to either the railway station, the City Airport or the ferry terminal.
Three of the taxi companies we called said that they had no availability to carry a wheelchair, even though we know that they have the vehicle types and two of the companies that turned up told us that there was to be a 50% surcharge for carrying the wheelchair. Completely against the rules!
We also conducted the same experiment, but in reverse. From the railway station, no one was willing to collect us, from the ferry port all of them were willing to make the journey, but again with a 50% surcharge. The City Airport is unique in that it has a contract with one of the taxi companies and this made the situation even worse. They not only charged the 50% surcharge but also added £1.50 to the fare for bringing a car to the airport especially!
We have shared this information with the BBC and with the statutory authorities and nobody appears to be the slightest bit interested in this disgraceful situation that is being perpetrated against wheelchair users within the city of Belfast.
What is more of an affront is that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board here has just announced a partnership with one of these taxi companies, so any promotion the city might have for accessible tourism, will lead to disabled tourists being burdened with extra charges from the moment they arrive in the city.
Local politicians seem indifferent or are completely ignorant to this and many other problems that are facing the disabled community. I feel that the only way we are going to make a change is by coming together and offering one voice, a very loud voice, demanding changes. How can we ever achieve independent living with barriers like these in our way?”