It was a total accident really. I read an item in the local paper about a man who had been taken to court for not making a phone call before using a level crossing. This particular crossing was outside town on a quiet lane leading to a renowned beauty spot and the line was only used by one train per hour. Many people use the crossing because they like to walk in the lane and admire the many wild flowers, some of them rare.
The crossing has a phone box beside it and people are ordered via a big notice to phone the signal box before opening the gate and crossing the line. The man in court had crossed the line without phoning the box and the railway police prosecuted him. He was fined for not making the phone call.
I contacted the paper and explained that as a deaf person I was not capable of making any kind of phone call and therefore I was unable to use the crossing at all without breaking the law. The reporter at the paper was interested because it had never occurred to her that being deaf meant that I could not use a particular route. Of course, it is unusual and that is why the paper decided to follow it up.
So I met the reporter on a lovely sunny day down at the level crossing and a photographer turned up and got a picture of me leaning on the phone cabinet looking a bit fed up. We waited for a train to come along, it appeared from behind some trees almost silently, we could see why the crossing was hazardous. However the reporter agreed with me that it was wrong that I cannot us the crossing unless I somehow did the impossible and phoned the signal box, out of sight about a mile away.
The reporter did phone the signal box to check and was curtly told to leave the phone alone. The signalman suggested that I should take a hearing person with me to make the phone call. Thanks, but I could have thought of that myself. The point is that it is clearly discrimination. Hearing person makes a phone call, uses the crossing. Deaf person can’t make a phone call and is therefore excluded. My point was that I should have the same access as hearing people and not have to do the impossible under pain of being prosecuted if I didn’t.
The reporter contacted Mr A. Spokesman at the railway company and asked if any “reasonable adjustment” was likely to be made. The answer was that it was too expensive. It just so happens that at the bottom of the lane there is an old folks care home. Given the age of the people there it was inevitable that some would be deaf and unable to use the phone. The railways didn’t care. Too expensive, they said. And we’ll prosecute you if you don’t phone the signal box before crossing.
So that was the end of the story as far as I was concerned. I’m locked out of a famed local beauty spot because I can’t do the impossible. That’s nice, isn’t it?
The following week, the paper came out and I went into town as usual to do my shopping. To my horror my picture was staring back at me from every paper shop in town. All three of them! For a few days, everywhere I went people commented about it. Most were sympathetic to the problem, they agreed that it was the railways job to do something about it.
To date nothing has been done and in the meantime there have been a couple of deaths at a different crossing on the same line. People just didn’t see the train coming and drove right into it.
There have also been deaths on open level crossings elsewhere in the country but still the railways have done nothing to help people who can’t make phone calls. It’s basically, “That’s your hard luck”.
That’s just about the size of things where deaf people are concerned, isn’t it?