Sunday, February 20, 2011

British blind man considers suing Eurostar after he's abandoned on train to Brussels

From Kent News in the UK:

Eurostar has been forced to apologise amidst threats of legal action after a blind man was abandoned on a train to Brussels.

Dr Tom Pey (pictured), chief executive of the Royal London Society for the Blind, which runs Dorton House School in Seal, Sevenoaks, was helped onto the train at Ebbsfleet by a friend, who told the conductor to guide him off when it reached the Belgium capital.

However, when the other passengers left the train there was no help waiting for him and after an hour and a half he left to try and find a taxi.

Dr Pey is now taking legal advice about suing Eurostar for disability discrimination.

Tim Arnold, communications manager at Royal London, said: "As so often happens, a moment’s thoughtlessness results in misery for a disabled person.

"Eurostar is re-defining the word ‘shameful’. They have a clear responsibility under the Equalities Act to make a reasonable adjustment for disabled people.

"Helping a visually impaired person off the train and towards a taxi is a reasonable expectation under the act. Tom’s lawyers say he has a good case for disability discrimination."

Dr Pey, who was travelling to the European Parliament to press for improved rights for guide dog owners, had to leave his guide dog in Seal.

He said this was because Belgian taxi drivers are often reluctant to pick up passengers with assistance animals.

Dr Pey is also president of the European Guide Dog Federation and was attending a top level meeting as part of the organisation’s role in improving access rights for visually impaired people throughout the EU.

"It’s really difficult to make your way around in a foreign country at the best of times, quite apart from being visually impaired. I was also at a real loss without my guide dog," he said.

"I eventually managed to stumble off the train and remembered that the taxi rank was near a pizza restaurant. Only problem was there are two pizza eateries at Brussels station. It was most distressing."

Mr Arnold said the Royal London worked to highlight the rights of blind and visually impaired people.

"The question is if this is happening to someone of Dr Pey’s demeanor and character how many other people is this happening? It is an absolute disgrace."

A spokesman for Eurostar said: "This was obviously a distressing experience for Dr Pey and we called him last week and apologised unreservedly.

"Situations like these are thankfully rare but are taken extremely seriously, and therefore, together with our SNCB colleagues at Brussels Midi we are investigating why this happened, as a matter of urgency."

Royal London’s Mr Arnold added: "Perhaps Eurostar should take lessons from Transport for London in dealing with blind people. TfL staff are well trained and anxious to obey the law. It’s not rocket science."