An employee working for a major bus company serving Warwick students has been accused of discrimination against a disabled student.
A Stagecoach employee is alleged to have denied a wheelchair user access onto the 10.50pm service from Warwick University to Leamington Spa on 6 February 2013.
A wheelchair user was among a number of individuals attempting to board the crowded Unibus at the Arts Centre stop, but was allegedly prevented from boarding by the employee due to the presence of another wheelchair user already aboard the service.
An argument took place between the employee and student, with the several options put forward, such as temporarily storing the chair whilst its owner made use of one of the chairs reserved for disabled passengers, dismissed.
After insisting only one wheelchair user could board the service at any time, the Stagecoach employee then permitted able-bodied people to board the bus, leading to accusations of ableism.
Further issues students have found include a lack of services between Warwick University and Leamington Spa, despite efforts made by Stagecoach at the beginning of the current academic year to increase the number of Unibus services they provide.
Welfare and campaigns officer at Warwick Students’ Union (SU), Cathryn Turhan, was unhappy about the treatment of the disabled student in question.
Speaking to the Boar, she commented: “We are shocked by the account of a disabled student discriminated against by Stagecoach staff.
“The University have made a complaint to Stagecoach and we are eager to see the outcome of this.
“Above all, we want to see a better deal for people with disabilities.”
Sam Fry, disabled students’ officer for Warwick SU, agreed with Ms Turhan.
“I am very disappointed that Stagecoach have such limited access arrangements for wheelchair users.
“In addition, buses come very infrequently when it’s late, so if a bus isn’t accessible it means a long wait for the next one.
“This situation isn’t acceptable and I hope Stagecoach change their behaviour quickly.”
Steve Burd, managing director for Stagecoach Midlands, was quick to defend the decision of the Stagecoach inspector.
“Although our inspector was not able to allow a second unfolded wheelchair to board, he was in a position to permit further able-bodied passengers to get on the bus as it was not yet at its full capacity.
“The wheelchair user who was already on board the bus had no legs and could not get out of his wheelchair and fold it up.
“The second wheelchair who wished to board had a large motorised wheelchair which could not be folded.
“Had the second passenger had a normal sized wheelchair and been able to fold it and board the vehicle unaided, then our inspector would have made room for it.
“All the new vehicles which Stagecoach Midlands orders are fully Disability Discrimination Act compliant.”
Second-year Maths student Stephen Smith commented: “It’s hardly discrimination; the employee was clearly just following the rules of his job.”
Joe Baker, a second-year Philosophy undergraduate, added: “I think the wheelchair user is within his/her rights to claim there should be more space on Unibuses, but not that they should have been let on in this instance, particularly if it was unsafe for the inspector to do so.”
President of Warwick Enable, Andrew Thompson, responded.
“Myself and the SU disabled students’ officer are bringing a motion to the Student Council on Monday which will mandate our sabbatical officers to lobby bus companies to make sure that they adequately cater for disabled students, so that they are not treated like second-class citizens.”