The tube and disability

The recent London tube strikes left me lost for words. I watched and felt concerned by the frenzy such an incident could cause. However, I was more concerned how a large group of people have their lives disrupted, and are segregated from the normality everyday, but without any public attention.

It pains me to be the guy banging the disability drum, but events like this do justify my rhythmic activism. I have used an electric wheelchair since 3 years old and I did live independently in London for 6 years. One of the main reasons I moved back to my childhood Cambridge was transport related.

Did you know around 1/3 of London underground stations are not accessible for wheelchair users? Let’s reiterate this: around 66% of the UKs capital city underground stations are not welcoming of a large group of everyday people in society. Crazy!

My first experience of this came from a day trip when still studying at Coventry university. I looked at an online map of the underground and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when identifying this discrimination. We decided to drive instead for the concert at Hyde Park, and got a parking ticket instead. This is a drum to beat for another day, my friends.

The first time I actually took the tube was from my offices near Kings Cross, whilst still working for the disability charity Scope, to a friends house in Hammersmith. On this occasion luck had it that both stations were step free. Happy days. Unfortunately on arrival a large step appeared from the carriage to the platform, and a crack team of strong passengers lifted all 150kg of my chair, plus me. These independent mobility vehicles don’t come lightweight, or cheap for that matter.

I attended a talk by TfL for the Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers a few weeks back. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at their recent views and actions. It seems the paralympic games in London 2012 shook things up at last!

The general message was that more stations are being adapted, there is a list of new ones to be made accessible, and they are seeking funding for the rest. You can check out for further accessibility information and videos. Their ‘come on board’ campaign is also a positive media campaign.

For me the key aspect is that disabled people need to prove they demand access to the nation’s capitals transport system. It’s easy to not fund something if seemingly there’s no demand. The problem is the catch 22 of not being able to demonstrate this demand because you can’t access the facilities. Even if the physical access is improved, stories like this one highlight attitudinal and procedural barriers too.

I don’t have quick and simple answers. I just know that civil rights struggles in the past condemned discrimination and segregation of people. Surely full inclusion of disabled people is legally, politically, socially and most importantly economically right for everyone.

People can contact if they want to get involved with the campaign.


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