The Lack Of Wheelchair Accessibility Or Transport In London
Disability, whether physical or mental, is something that is neither in our hands nor under our control. But as humans, the least that we could do is be compassionate and be ready to lend a helping hand to people suffering from them. Most developed countries have started giving critical importance to the needs of people with disabilities. From wheelchair accessible vehicles to ramps, from lifts to highly trained support dogs, people with disabilities today have a great support system designed particularly for them. They have access to assistive and adaptive technologies. Disability rights movements have been advocating equal access to them in all fields, organizations, and industries. In a nutshell, more and more countries have started to focus on the issues related to accessibility.
Any discussion on improving the lives of the disabled is incomplete without addressing the issue of accessibility. So, what exactly is accessibility? Accessibility can be simply defined as the designing and delivering of products, services, or other forms of access to tools, environments or opportunities for people with some kind of disability. It is majorly based on the concept of accessible development and design and includes both direct and indirect access.
Let us talk about how countries have welcomed methods, laws and legislations for supporting accessibility. Let’s shift focus to one of the most developed and technologically advanced locations in the world – London.
According to the English Homes Survey 2014, only 5% of the homes in the UK are disabled-friendly. This basically means that 95% of the houses lack accessibility measures. As per an article published in the London daily, The Guardian, more than 40% of the disabled people in the UK aged 16-24 do not live in suitable accommodations and their accommodation lacks even the basic accessibility measures like ramps and disabled-friendly lifts. In 2009, there were about 8.9 million people who were registered as “disabled” in Britain. But, only a few of them were lucky enough to find an accommodation that best suited their special needs and requirements.
Talking about transport, London’s well known and renowned Tube system is not really accessible to people with disabilities, especially those with mobility disabilities and problems. Not more than 67 out of a total of 270 Tubes stations have a step-free access. Speaking of lifts, only one in four underground Tube stations in London have step-free access in Zone 1 and according to the local Londoners, most of these are usually closed due to some reason or the other. Shutting down lifts further aggravates the problem as this prevents people with disabilities to use the Tube as conveniently as their able-bodied colleagues and peers. So basically it is a shame that a wheelchair user is going to have a really tough time trying to get around London on the Tube! This makes it quite evident that what is lacking in this case is not the technology nor the resources, but the will to make all the Tube stations disabled-friendly.
The bus network In London is no exception to this apathy towards the disabled people. There is no penalty on bus companies to enforce wheelchair priority in the wheelchair bay. Arguments between wheelchair users and pushchair users for the wheelchair bay on buses in a common site in London, basically translating into priority wheelchair access into buses. People of both of these groups have disabilities, and it is high time that the London government look into the demands of these groups and create separate bays or find innovative solutions for their transportation needs.
Another very important observation is the slow death of disabled friendly minicabs in London with the onslaught of the services of taxi aggregators like Uber. Uber cabs do not have wheelchair accessibility and the advent of Uber’s services in London has given the licensed black drivers and minicabs a run for their money. These licensed black cabs and minicabs, which are disabled friendly and have wheelchair accessibility, are finding it hard to survive in the highly competitive market, which is now being overrun with services from Uber. These cabs are bound to die a slow death, and that is rather saddening for people with disabilities and wheelchair users. Another notable observation in this context is the dearth of such wheelchair accessible minicabs. The wheelchair accessible and disabled-friendly minicabs are already less in number. There is a vast difference between the number of people with disabilities in London and the prevalence of disabled-friendly minicabs. With Uber having marked its presence in this industry, even the remaining cabs will soon go out of business!
Just recently, disability campaigners made a plea to the next mayor of London to pay heed to their demands for equal opportunities and rights in many areas, including transport, housing, and education, by launching their own manifesto. Some of the highlights of this manifesto are imposing strict penalties on bus companies who fail to prioritize wheelchair users in the wheelchair bays in buses, making all the Tube stations disabled-friendly with step-free access and functional lifts that can be used by able-bodied people and people with disabilities alike, and implementing measures to tackle the dearth of wheelchair accessible and disabled-friendly minicabs.
It is quite evident that people with disabilities in London still face a lot of issues when it comes to accessing public transport, be it minicabs or the Tube. There is still a huge dearth of disabled-friendly accommodation; most of the Tubes still lack a step-free access and wheelchair accessible lifts; there is a constant war between wheelchair users and push-chair users in wheelchair bays in buses. It is a pity that this category of the population is still considered a minority, despite constituting a significantly large chunk of the population.
But one thing is for sure. London’s transportation network has come a really long way in helping the disabled access its facilities. But the situation is still bad and requires continued efforts. Needless to say, a lot more needs to be done to create disabled-friendly homes and transport networks throughout the city, so that even those with disabilities can live a normal life and travel across the country as conveniently as their able-bodied peers. The next Mayor of London will have to specially focus on this issue, so that the problems of this huge chunk of the population are solved.