It’s a shame that a country like the United Kingdom does not have adequate facilities to help the disabled.
British Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike revealed in an interview with the Guardian that she was “completely robbed of her dignity” when she was forced to urinate in her wheelchair during a three-hour train journey because the company did not provide accessible bathrooms.
The 42-year old athlete, born in Kenya, is a wheelchair racer and a board member of U.K. Athletics. She has an MBE for her contributions toward disability sports and serves as a patron of charities that support the rights of people with disabilities.
The humiliating incident occurred on Oct. 8 when Wafula Strike was returning from a board meeting and needed to use the toilet. However, the accessible one was out of order and she was forced to wet herself sitting among numerous passengers.
“If the able-bodied toilet had been closer I could have tried to crawl to it but it was too far away and my wheelchair could not fit in the aisles to get to it,” she said.
The athlete spent the remainder of the journey keeping her face hidden in her hoodie to prevent anyone from recognizing her. She also “tried to conceal the smell of urine by spraying perfume” over herself.
When the nightmare journey was over, she quickly went home, scrubbed herself clean in the shower and then spent the evening in bed “sobbing for hours.”
“As a disabled person I have worked so hard over the years to build up my confidence and self-belief,” she said. “Having access to a toilet, especially in a developed nation like the U.K., is one of the most basic rights.
"The whole incident made me feel as if I can’t play an active role in society and should just hide behind closed doors. Being forced to sit in my own urine destroyed my self-esteem and my confidence.”
Wafula Strike said her inability to use her legs isn’t her real disability — it’s actually a society that fails to prioritize accessibility. She hopes her ordeal would “bring about change for other people with disabilities who want to contribute to society but are prevented from doing so.”
Since the incident, the athlete has been inundated from support both from her community and from outside.
Important article. We should all thank Anne Wafula Strike for bravely highlighting this affront to human dignity https://t.co/ciD7tGFdNJ— Nitin Sawhney (@thenitinsawhney) January 2, 2017
ANNE WAFULA STRIKE IS A HERO FOR REVEALING THIS Paralympian forced to wet herself on train without accessible toilet https://t.co/wEiQYCtbRh— Simon Hattenstone (@shattenstone) January 2, 2017
“The sad thing is the number of people who have contacted me since I went public and said that what happened to me on the train also happened to them,” Wafula Strike added. “One woman whose job is a psychologist said that she gets dehydrated when she travels by train because she is scared to drink anything at all in case there is no toilet available on the train.”
Fellow Paralympics wheelchair basketball player, Ade Adepitan, has supported her call for a change and demanded fines for organizations that do not provide suitable bathroom for people with disabilities.
The athlete revealed he too has been forced to urinate in train carriages on instances, but admits it’s easier for men.
“I have had to pee into a bottle in the past when the accessible toilet wasn’t working,” he said. “I would carefully arrange a coat over my knees under the train table and pee into a bottle held underneath my coat.”
He recounted one horrific ordeal where he had an upset stomach and the train’s bathroom was out of order. He described the feeling of holding on as “terrible.”
“If there is no punishment and no fines, nothing will change. The biggest problem is the people who are enforcing the rules who don’t do enough to enforce them, and the able-bodied public who use disabled toilets and park in disabled parking bays. Companies need to be attacked in their pockets and by naming and shaming them if they don’t provide the right facilities,” he said.
MP Robert Halfon described Wafula Strike’s treatment as “totally unacceptable set of events for the 21st century.”
Faryal Velmi, director Transport for All, an organization that provides advice for disabled travelers in London, said: “The humiliation that Anne went through is unfortunately a regular occurrence for disabled and older people traveling on our railways.
“Anne’s case is another example of how we are treated as second-class citizens when traveling. Train companies that make handsome profits for their shareholders need to invest resources in ensuring that accessible toilets — and indeed all toilets facilities — are kept open and maintained for all customers.”
The pressure is on for not just transport companies but other organizations as well to improve access for people with disabilities.
As for Wafula Strike, she said:
“I’ve learnt that if you speak up, the world does listen. As disabled people our voices can be weak, but I’m optimistic that now our voices are being heard and we will see change.”
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Carlos Garcia Rawlins