Dear Richard Branson,
This blog is an open letter to your regarding the worst train journey I have ever had curtsey of Virgin Trains. I paid £69 for the privilege – I’ll be lucky to even receive £6.90 the 10% I’m entitled to under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage in train vouchers instead of cash. It won’t even begin to compensate for the distress it caused to me and other customers tied up in the delays. Now I have to find the strength to dare return to Glasgow on Thursday morning and again on 25th November – by train.
Via Twitter I received an apology. None of your staff noticed any of my tweets till the next day! Yet I was even was offered a place to stay that night by someone living near Preston.
Why are @virgintrains using twitter if you don’t communicate with your customers in real time? I’ve also been asked to complete a Virgin trains complaint form on the web. The form is not even accessible for disabled customers. It allows no room to give you my full complaint.
If you were travelling 598 miles back and forth for a funeral you want a safe and stress free journey there and back quickly as possible wouldn’t you?
So whilst you were enjoying the delights at the weekend of Formula 1 at Abu Dhab in Dubai, sipping Champaign and being interviewed on the BBC spare a thought for the thousands of us caught up in the flooding chaos between Penrith and Lancaster on Sunday helped in no way by your staff.
Where were the contingency plans in place? Where was the information on notice boards? It’s not the first time we have had flooding on the west coast line. I uploaded all the pictures I took onto flickr click here. A few of them are in this blog.
We have so much digital technology around us, internet and mobile phones why was it impossible for train staff at a train station or replacement bus services to not have up to date information at their fingertips to ensure the best outcome for passengers stranded? (To avoid an unnecessary extra 2 hours on a bus when we could have got a train from Lancaster)?
My itinerary on Sunday went like this:
09.45 Driven to Glasgow Cental 10.31 Glasgow Central – train departs
12.00-13.00 Penrith station packed train sits for an hour with passengers standing train pulls out station, turns back to Carlisle
13.15 Now at Carlisle station – everyone off the train chaos no staff, oh 2 staff one with a tanoy, no information zilch.
14.59 Finally on bus to Preston via M6 … it crawls along (another 3 hours to go on the bus)
16.35 Bus drives slowly through Camforth, Bolton Lee Sands and Lancaster (past a sign saying 2½ miles to Morecambe) – bus drives past the station; I find out from my partner in Telford that there is a Birmingham train due at 17.05 from Lancaster taking 15 mins to Preston – we could have caught it. Driver tells me he is not stopping, has no contact with Virgin Trains. No! He continues slowly back onto a very choked up M6 2 lanes doing 30mph.
18.04 It’s been over 3 hours stuck on this bus. We arrive Preston station. Chaos; cars and buses – funny still no staff to direct or help. I struggle with my heavy bag up a massive flight of stairs and the down another set to reach the platform. I’d got a text from Telford 10 mins earlier telling me to catch the 18.25. At least I knew it wouldn’t be long to wait. I’m in tears.
18.13 I’m waiting for Birmingham New St train on platform 6
18.30 Train arrives I sit in First Class – only because there is no where else to sit.
Conductor is on the other half of train that’s sealed off from our side. Staff in buffet cart contacts train guard. I’m asked to get off at Wigan and get back on the other half of train. I refuse – my bags are too heavy and there are no seats. Train guard refuses to arrange a taxi for me at Wolverhampton because I can get the connecting train even if I have to wait.
19.57 arrive Wolverhampton – it’s been 9½ since I left Glasgow. I’m exhausted. I ask a guard again for help and request a taxi. ‘It’s a natural disaster … tough.’ I go into Customer Services told they are ‘unable to authorise a taxi’.
I face another 2 hours travelling time including 2 more buses in Telford to get home . I’ve got a 45 min wait on a cold platform for the 20.43 Newtown train. It’s usually late arriving at Platform 1, changing to Platform 2 and back again to 1 at the last minute – I can’t stand the thought of going through that.
20.20 Virgin staff agree to put me in cab from Wolverhampton to Telford after witnessing how upset I was. I was very grateful not to have another 2 hour train/bus journey.
20.55 I arrive home in Telford I’m hungry and very very tired out.
Why did I find out more about train connections via text from my partner 200 miles away than from Virgin Train staff or the notices at Carlisle and Preston station or the bus?
On my way up to Glasgow initially (Sunday 25th) I had to catch 4 trains – all packed with people, kids and bags in the isles it went: Telford – Shrewsbury / Shrewsbury – Manchester Piccadilly / Manchester Piccadilly – Preston / Preston – Glasgow [standing most of the way]. The train journey should have taken 4 hours. It took 6.
It took 1o½ hours to get from Glasgow to Telford on Sunday it’s only 299 miles. It should have taken 4. It’s 6 on a Sunday because Virgin Trains only run one train every 2 hours South from Glasgow; starting at Carlisle with not even a direct route to Wolverhampton.
God help you if you are DEAF! It was impossible to find out what was happening from staff at Carlisle station who asked me ‘can you lipread’ and yelled in my ear. Do any of Virgin Train staff under go Disability or Deaf awareness training? What about other disabled or elderly passengers or those with kids? Where was the help? Got luggage forget it. It was a free for all chaos.
Before I left on Sunday am I found 4 different routes for the same journey on the internet. Rail Planner tells me to go via Lancaster. Virgin Trains via Preston. Virgin Trains – I also download the pdf about engineering works on the same page that I am advised to change at Carlisle. Finally at 10am the Ticket office in Glasgow Central tells me to change at Preson. Confused? Me too.
This experience bypasses the 10 hour journey I had several years ago from Glasgow to London Euston where the replacement bus from Glasgow to Preston was driven by a drunk driver wavering across the M74 and M6 lanes whilst smoking a cigarette (the rest of the bus lit up too despite the no smoking signs). In the end his near misses forced a mutiny and we made him drop us off at Carlisle instead of Preston.
Nope this was worse. Much, much worse.
I hope you enjoyed Dubai Richard.
Pesky People blogger Alison Smith is in Glasgow due to close family bereavement.
The support and appreciation and offers of help, openness and willingness to work with us since the last blog has been fantastic. (Read Hello Digital : Digital Disaster)
Pesky People is looking forward to working with Hello Digital, Screen WM and all wonderful people involved in the Digital scene to find fantastic ways to address accessibility and engagement and involvement in strategic, technical, creative and social terms (yes we want it all).
Read Pete Ashton’s fab blog in the meantime (link opposite under the heading Mentions).
Site highlights: a fully accessible site that challenges and fights for digital accessibility at all levels for Disabled and Deaf people. Who will be included in the Hall of Shame? Techies we aren’t but passionate about accessibility, our rights and wanting to be involved in the digital revolution, we are. This was our dream it’s becoming a reality.
The wish list Pesky presented last Friday 23rd (also Getonlineday) included include options for audio, video, subtitling, audio description, easy text, colour, screen size options, wigits (Point symbols) and British Sign Language interpretation.
It will include a well laid out Accessibility statement that doesn’t lead you to the BBC ‘My Web My Way’ website to find out what web accessibility is all about. Please web developers/designers/managers tell us, who decided THAT was good practice? Did you ever ask Disabled and Deaf people if that was what they wanted?
Pesky People website will address web and digital accessibility on a practical level online and off to ensure that there are strategies in place – to build partnerships, obtain funding (we are voluntary), work together to involve and engage Disabled and Deaf people as visitors, programmers, artists, geeks and all that is wonderful about Digital.
Digital inclusion won’t just be a buzz word to us but working towards a reality.
On Wed 21st September I attended Hello Digital’s conference part of Digital Birmingham’s Digital Festival along with loads of others. It was packed. Judging by the twitter feeds for #HD09 everyone had a fantastic time
I didn’t. Despite being told there would be British Sign Language Interpreters (SLIs) booked – they weren’t. The event started at 8am. They called Birmingham Institute for the Deaf at 10am and the SLI (Sign Language Interpreter) finally arrived at 1.30pm – 5 and half hours after it started.
I question my place in Digital Britain.
What will it take take for Deaf and Disabled people to be a real part of so called Digital Britain?
Why do we have to fight for our access needs so much? Where are there no live subtitles streaming online at conferences? Where’s the audio description? Why arn’t websites compatible with screen readers? Why can’t conferences get the access right? It’s been 13 years since the Disability Discrimination Act came into force.
Every time you plan to go to an event you’d expect to literally do two things – you fill in the form (usually online), have your attendance confirmed and you simply turn up on the day.
Every time I (and any other Deaf or Disabled person) want to go to an event we literally have to organise our involvement in it.
I have to seek out the contact email for the organisers (sometimes even that takes some doing), send email(s) requesting whether they will provide British Sign Language Interpreters or not. I always include a list of interpreting agencies (cuts down 3 email conversations). A couple of weeks usually goes by before they get back to me to confirm – in meantime the event places are filling fast and I’m still not registered.
The morning of Hello Digital – what do other delegates do? I assume arrived, grab the name tag and programme, follow the smell of coffee and get on with networking before it all begins
I turn up early I have to meet the SLIs so they sign BSL and not SSE (Sign Supported English – not a proper language unlike BSL), check out where they will stand in the room so I don’t end up at the other side of the room crinking my neck and squinting my eyes.
I’ve learned conference organisers don’t want the interpreter on stage next to the speakers (‘Other side of the stage please’) so I usually have to battle to get that right (SLI table tennis anyone? SLI signing on the far right – speaker talking on far left. Right. Left. Right. Left ….).
In the case of 4iP Recasting the Net they wouldn’t let the SLI’s on stage despite their insistence it was the best position and made the SLI’s sit in semi-darkness (you need good lighting on the SLI’s to see them properly) whilst the stage was lit up. 4iP were filming the event to steam online and didn’t want the interpreters in the way of filming. To make matters worse no uploaded videos have been subtitled and my request for that remains ignored.
I emailed Hello Digital on 24th August, received confirmation same day stating that they would arrange BSL support. I arrived at 9.20am on the day and the organisers tell me they are ‘sorting it’. Finally one arrived – some 5 hours after the event started.
I’m profoundly Deaf with severe hearing loss regarding high frequencies e.g. speech. I might talk ‘well’ but I am Deaf. Without SLI support I’m stuffed. I don’t use induction loops cos all I hear is muffled speech, they pick up ever scratch, sneeze and cough – for me they are a pain. Have you tried lip-reading from 20+ feet? Sustain that for 8 hours solid? Exactly – no. That was out of the question too.
becomes my Digital Access. Whilst everyone else focused on providing commentary and their thoughts to the event unfolding I’m using twitter to follow the speeches. It became a lifeline. I might as well have stayed at home.
Helga Henry from Fierce Earth opened proceedings as the Hello Digital Conference Chair at 9.30am – by all accounts her intro was very amusing. I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t hear any of it. I watch people laughing. I don’t laugh. I tweet @hellodigital:
‘Where are the British sign language interpreters? It’s started!’
Next up Councillor Tisley – so … mm what did he say? I’ve no idea. I try again:
‘Cllr tisley up STILL no sign of the sign language interpreters in the rm thank god Twitter is now my digital deaf access!
@paulbradshaw kick-starts #battleships I focus on spotting friendly faces in the audience and follow the twitter stream. I give my position and add:
‘Now where’s BSL interpreters I can’t follow zilch’
Great! Sion Simon’s up. Now I was really looking forward to his speech. Can’t follow a bloody thing. I’m picking up the odd comment via twitter – rock and roll and cars stand out mmm what else did he say? I’m getting very, very upset.
It’s gone 10am Sion is in full flow – a sinking feeling, anger and confusion is going round my head. I try again:
Please RT @hellodigital WHERE ARE THE BSL INTERPRETERS
have they not been booked? #hd09
I spot the induction loop sign, turn my hearing aids to the T switch and guess what … IT’S NOT SWITCHED ON! That gets me tweeting again.
@hellodigital is also tweeting but not responding. I request people to RT (re-tweet) as the #hd09 feed isn’t picking up my tweets.
So big thanks to @LSpurdle @willperrin @citilab @rayduff @talkaboutlocal @dominiccampbell @cyberdoyle @littlelaura (who put up a picture of one of my tweets) @katiekatetweets @benjibrum @gabrilleNYC @wrinklydragon @CandocoDance @chrissyhammond @wesharestuff @greenwichlive @paulocanning
From Birmingham, Barcelona to New York my plea went global. So did about 12,000 followers. When i realised this I felt less alone.
The Learning Disabled Hate Crime Conference #CSA09 was taking place in Birmingham same time as Hello Digital. It’s a major and very crucial event discussing attacks and assaults on people – because they are disabled. It is serious – attacking and killing a disabled person is not seen as a hate crime by most police forces. Check out their conference here Their first video here.
I leave after Sion’s speech finishes to find out what is going on. I’m upset, I’m trying to be calm and polite. The response? ‘we are sorting it … we will have one for 1.30pm’. I say ‘It’s not good enough I’d have missed most of the conference by then’. ‘… arriving 1.30’. I know from body language and expression I’m being told off. I should be grateful. I’m also told ‘sorry it was something we had on a list to do and didn’t’. I’m speechless.
I get escorted to the first workshop session by the conference organiser and directed to sit in the front row of the lecture space. The induction loop is now on. I stay a short while then leave. I can’t deal with it and feel I’m in the wrong session. I can’t handle the flash photography jarring my eyes and brain as I’m concentrating on lip-reading the panel members from 20 feet away. I give up.
I wonder into ‘News Innovation in a new media age’. I spot the masking tape going round the room – it’s the tape over the induction loop. I sit down by the wire. It works. I relax a bit and tweet:
Now in news innovation session #hd09 no BSL interpreters till 1.30pm Completely unacceptable! Scraping by odd word via induction loops.
A question gets asked I realise the induction loop’s not working with the mic on the stand in the audience. I pip up but it’s no use it’s not working right.
I’ve had enough by now and weighing up whether to run out, hid in the toilet and cry.
It’s now 12.30pm 3 hours since arrived. Nearly lunch time. An hour to go before the BSL interpreter arrives. Lunch is difficult …
1.20pm I go back to the Reception Desk again – the interpreter has arrived. Yippee – just in time for my Digital Surgery one to one session.
I’d like to say the rest of the day improved – it did … but marred by feeling of complete isolation. My digital surgery was brilliant – one to one with @paulhendeson and @paulbradshaw joined us. Lots of advice for Pesky People blog. Lots of food for thought. I even tweet that Andrew the SLI has arrived.
David Rowan’s keynote speech was great – visual and interactive and signed! The screens even cropped Andrew the SLI in a smaller box on the screen – fab. Unfazed David didn’t cut in front of him cutting off the sightline. At last I get something from it (besides the fab complementary yearly subscription of WIRED).
It ends as it started … flash photography and me leaping out the way.
I don’t go to the After Party … I am sure it was fun.
Pesky People posed a question to Sion Simon the MP and Creative Industries Minister via the online site Yoosk.com – which describes itself as an ‘interactive global citizen’s news and gossip co-zine-collaborative magazine’.
“What will you be doing to ensure digital inequalities are addressed?
Specifically how you will ensure that the WAG 2.0 guidelines are met in the
creation of digital content and what standards will be agreed that ensures
Disabled and Deaf people have full access and are not excluded as we currently are.”
Sion was asked this question by Jonathan Walker of the Birmingham Post. Since then Sion has also agreed to meet us to discuss the issue further.
Sion’s reply includes an explanation of the WAG guidelines (as prompted by Jonathan). He raises a crucial point that websites are only as good as the people who deliver them. So when people in a department are passionate to ensure good access and move on – what happens when they are replaced? It needs commitment from everyone linked to web development to make sites accessible.
We are hopeful at the promise that new egovernment guidelines will be put into place soon – so will keep an eye on that! In the meantime it seems government websites don’t need to complie with any guidelines at present – is this right?
Our question is the only video out of 198 on Yoosk.com to be subtitled. It took some persuading on my part to achieve this. Yoosk use video as their main medium of documenting replies and a Deaf/hard of hearing person has no access to any of their content – including me.
When I met Keith Halstead on Saturday he agreed to subtitle it (it had been online since 30 September). He was great and did this the next day – this is despite not having the finances to ensure all their videos are accessible. This is a problem for many sites – a dedicated team with limited resources.
Yoosk’s latest blog gives a great mention – click here to read.
So what are the digital funders like 4iP doing to make sure digital projects they support make their websites accessible and provide the financial means to do it? Nowt it seems – so what’s the point of digital inclusion?
So what do you think of Sion’s response? Let Yoosk.com know too.
Is this the future of broadcasting? England’s World Cup qualifier live online against Ukraine on Saturday (on 10th October 2009) won’t be subtitled or audio described.
A historic moment in broadcasting for football fans everywhere – yet again Deaf and Disabled fans will miss out.
If they are watching it – it will be without sound. Maybe they’ll club together to pay the extra £50+ an hour needed for two British Sign Language Interpreters (SLI’s) to sign it by the side of the tiny screen on their laptop!
SLI’s need a break every 20 minutes hence the need for two.
Should they send the invoice to FIFA under the Disability Discrimination Act?
Deaf and Disabled Fans will miss out as a result. Did you know for example that there are 25 Deaf football teams in the UK – or that the Deaflympics took place last month?
I wrote to TaylorHerring PR to ask if it was going to be subtitled or audio described as there was no mention of either on the Terms and Conditions page.
TaylorHerring PR represent Kentaro the international football agency who sold the broadcasting rights and digital sports specialist Platform who are streaming the game.
James Herring, Managing Partner responded to me today saying:
I’m afraid this won’t be possible this weekend, they don’t have
Subtitles can in theory be downloaded, but due to the nature of
this first live, exclusive broadcast on the internet and the very short
timescale that the project has been delivered in we are not able to
offer this service.
I have raise this issue with the production team and it is certainly
something they plan to be able to do in future.
Hearing fans can watch it online via signing up to http://www.ukrainevengland.com or through the websites of the Sun, the Times, News of the World, The Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Daily Star, the Independent, Virgin Media, Orange, The Metro, Odeon Cinemas and Beta365.
On TaylorHerringPR’s website it states that the partners involved:
“a cumulative combined monthly user base online of over 20 million in the UK. When combined with Perform’s own online sports network of over 23 million monthly users, the promotion of the match will be the largest online campaign in UK history;”
So even if you hate the idea of forking out £9.99 to watch the game online and have – spare a thought for the 70,000+ Deaf people in the UK alone never mind Deaf football fans world wide who won’t be able to follow the game.
The game’s being presented by James Richardson alongside ex-England Manager Sven Goran Eriksson with commentary by David Pleat and Tony Jones.
FIFA and UEFA should be pulled up – not only agreeing for this exclusive arrangement to stream the game on web only but also for not even considering the issue of accessibility, the need for internet access or affordability for fans.
So what do you think? Vote now (results will be passed on to FIFA, UEFA and Kentaro):
So I leave you ponder another reality for Digital Britain and what inclusion actually means the last word goes to Kentaro Chief Executive Phillip Grothe who was quoted in the Guardian as saying:
“In six months’ or a year’s time this will be ordinary business, … I have received a lot of calls from people around the globe who are looking into this. It’s not a one-off trial here.”
Are you worried about how you will be excluded in digital broadcasting online? I am.
I attended the packed out Recasting Power event last night in Birmingham. Featuring the Rt Hon Tony Benn (his granddaughter Emily Benn stood in his place), Charlie Elphicke (Conservative Prospective MP for Dover), Councillor Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council), Charlie Beckett and members of Birmingham’s political and digital community discussing how online tools are transforming politics. To quote:
‘Recasting the Net aimed to be a prestigious new series of live and online debates, curated by LSE think-tank POLIS and Channel 4’s 4iP team, designed to explore and discuss the next phase of the web.
Facebook, YouTube and blogging are having a major impact on how we do politics. But how well are our democratic institutions responding? Are online tools more effective than more traditional ways of holding power to account? Join us as we explore the implications of a public newly empowered with 21st century tools.’
Well that was the aim of the event …. the outcome was some what muted (an ironic term for me to say as a Deaf person if there ever was one). There were British Sign Language interpreters present as requested (three in fact – the organisers over booked).
Charlie Beckett introduced Councillor Tilsley BCC’s website as a ‘sparkling new council website’ immediately I wondered if he’d even looked at it. That set the tone to follow – we were all too polite to heckle and I wish I had. Reading some of the comments online this morning including Charlie Beckett’s blog wonder if I was at the same event!
The debate from the panel felt tame. I question were they really the right people to be up there. More experienced politicians using social networking to engage with their constituents would have made a difference and there were great people in the audience who I think would have done better. But hey what do I know I’m new to this digital and social networking stuff.
The whole discussion from the panel about holding power to account fell flat with little substance to the debate. Where was the where was the detail and examples of the effects of social networking on democracy? How do we reach those unable to participate digitally and are socially excluded? We didn’t even touch on these.
This despite the great presentations from Stoke citizen journalism news site ‘Pits n Pots‘ Nick Booth aka @podnosh on twitter (Help Me Investigate) and veteran campaigner Audrey Miller from Jubilee Debt Campaign
Charlie Elphicke presented himself as only an aspiring Tory politician could – with an impersonation of David Cameron. He failed to address the questions presented avoidance tactics being the state of play. Even his summing up Audrey’s work in response to a question. Audrey showed us what for by retorting that ‘we’d be here all night … and you got it all wrong’. Don’t politicians wonder why we don’t engage with them?
Charlie Ephicke used the phase ‘love that dare not speak it’s name’ during the course of the debate and he wasn’t talking about lesbian and gay rights – yup this from the political party that brought in Section 28!
Councillor Tilsley, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council needs to take on board the major disquiet that has arisen out of the BCC website fiasco and engage with its constituents properly and directly himself – that also includes the ‘twitterati’. He told the audience ‘email me direct’ Take him up on it!
I’ve already written to Chris Price Director of Digital Development and Communities this morning in response to my comments about the inaccessibility of BCC’s website and call for them to talk to everyone not just Pesky People.
The quiet anger radiating from the audience about BCC’s site was hot against my back as I sat in the front row.
To top it off I couldn’t see people’s reactions to the discussions and missed out on knowing who was speaking from the floor. I was too busy negotiating the bad positioning of the BSL interpreters to the right out of frame of the panellists sitting on the left side of the stage along with bad lighting. I was having to squint to follow what the interpreters were signing. All because the film crew wanted the interpreters out of frame whilst filming the event – a missed opportunity if there ever was one.
The debate will be put online I’ve been told and the screen size online too small to incorporate the signers (why isn’t it bigger?). In the name of digital democracy Pesky People asks 4iP and Channel 4 make all your filming content accessible with subtitling/audio descriptio/BSL interpretation. You missed the opportunity to include BSL interpretation in your filming last night.
What’s the point of discussing digital democracy if not everyone can engage in the discussion? I hope that the debate around social exclusion that takes place in Glasgow fairs better.
Blogging about my terrible treatment at Orange [see the The future is NOT Orange] got a fantastic result.
The press picked it up – both BBC Radio Shropshire and Shropshire Star.
The BBC journalist contacted Orange Executive Office in Darlington (they only deal with journalists or industry people) who then got in touch direct.
They read the Pesky People post and are looking for my letter of complaint (am I glad I blogged!).
Orange has agreed to:
- terminate the mobile phone upgrade immediately
- return my contract back to what it was
- take back the HTC Touch Diamond
- unlock me from my mobile phone contract early to go with another provider
- will compensate me for costs I have incurred
- investigating the poor customer service and treatment I received at Orange Telford Store which they reassure me is being taken very seriously
I had direct contact with one person who dealt with this at all times (thanks Jamie).
Oh – and they are looking into my suggestions on how to improve customer services and information for disabled customers on their website, so watch this space.
Thanks Orange – you redeemed yourselves.
By the way – Trading Standards told me that by law I wasn’t entitled to have the contract terminated and it was my responsibility to know this and not the store to tell me (did you know that?). They ignored everything I mentioned about Disability discrimination and focused solely on the consumer legislation. I was also advised to write complaint letter giving them 2 weeks to respond (which I did). If they didn’t respond then to then to contact Trading Standards again.
In my case blogging was more effective than a complaint letter.