London – A Big Journey

It’s 4 am & the alarm is set for 6.20 am. But after a week of knowing about today, it has arrived. Today I travel to London, a part of the capital I have been to many times but never alone. Of course, I will have my trusty guide dog (GD) by my side, but no human support. In addition, today is a bigger step as it is the first time EVER that I will use the tube alone, the first time for me using a tube since my sight deteriorated & remembering back I was about 12 the last time, so lots would probably have changed in 20 years!

The reason for this is an important eye appointment at Moorefields Eye Hospital on City Road. For which I got just 7 days notice. This in itself makes today scary, but I’ll talk about that a bit more later.

The reason this is such a big thing is because as I mentioned briefly before, I have a GD, I am registered blind with a deteriorating congenital condition from which I have some sight, but in general terms, it’s not good.

Yes, I did say I’m registered blind, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t see anything… A very common misconception, one I myself used to believe before all of this. My condition has long fancy names, but in layman’s terms, my distance vision means that I struggle to see the detail of someone’s face when they stand directly in front of me, and I have severe tunnel vision, like looking through the tubes on the inside of Christmas wrapping paper, I can’t even see the arms on my glasses anymore if I’m looking forward.

Yes, I wear glasses and what I have just described is the best-corrected vision I have when I wear them. Without them, anything more than 2 inches away is a blur. Again, another preconception of many is that glasses fully correct your vision, they don’t, and that is often the reason I get stopped with my GD as people think I’m training her, not using her as my work partner.

Sorry, I went off on a tangent, you’ll get used to me!

I have travelled to London several times since November 2011 on my own since making regular visits to the head office of RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) having gone once with a colleague who showed me the stations to change at, we always went by train, never via the tube as she herself did not like the tube.

RNIB HO is situated several minutes walk from St. Pancras. Which is now home to the Eurostar, making it with its small train station at the far end, one of the busiest station in London. It is filled with designer stores, coffee shops and of course, hundreds of thousands of tourists and businessmen and women. So that in itself if no mean feat, and one thankfully, I have only ever had to tackle without my GD on one occasion. When we get there, she takes over, goes into her mummy mode and guides me safely through the crowns, the luggage, the hectic, noisy, smelly surroundings without a moments hesitation.

Today my journey consists of many of the same stations as this that journey, to help me keep some control and familiarity over what I am doing. We break our train journey early, having changed at Three-Bridges when we arrive at London Bridge… Another station with its own shopping centre attached, to go down from the train platform into the basement to join the Northern line Tube. The journey has been planned in a way that I need only use one tube, on one line and not need to change. From Tower Bridge, Old Street just a moments walk from the hospital is just 3 stops away.

Yes, I know that trains now all have audio and explain what stations they are stopping at, but on my other travel companion, my iPad is a list of all of the stations each of the trains and tubes I will be travelling on stop at and even the trains surrounding my chosen journey in case alterations need to be made.

I’m.a planner and an organiser, often taking this to extremes in trying to do this with other people and their lives, but it is how I can keep my control. A word and emotion that is incredibly important to me in this ever decreasing world.


we made it!

Although I am unable to fault the help and support that I received from the underground staff, I have to say that the information I had received about the stations I was travelling between was completely misleading and very unhelpful.

Walking up and down an escalator that was switched off as the GD is not cleared to use them was very exhausting on the way up… And even more scary on the way down, with over 215 steps in total in each direction, it was on a positive note a bloody good workout for my thighs!

London Bridge station is accessible, and one of the highest awarded for this in London, but if you need the lift, be prepared to walk. With the nature of the buildings and ages of them that house the tubes, accessibility is always an issue and one that I underhand. I am more than happy to have to do things differently and as said, I couldn’t fault the staff, they even walked with me out in the rain to get the lift, take me to the platform, sit me on a train and radio ahead to ensure that there was someone waiting at the other end to do the same. But the information available as to how the stations are accessible is limited to lifts and flat access onto the tube.

There is not a one size fits all solution to accessibly and disability issues, but information and the web is infinite, so this could be done.

As a blindie, I rely heavily on google maps and google earth to do a virtual walk around from the comfort of home… Could you do this for a train or tube station?

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