I recently discovered what kind of nightmare wheelchair users on London public transport face.
During a trip across the UK capital with a pram, I found out that all those wheelchair access signs you see actually mean jack, and your chance of rolling around the city without massive detours is next to none.
And that was with a pram! I could ask people to help me mind the gap, and to carry it up and down stairs.
Seriously, good luck finding helpful citizens when you’re asking them to carry you.
Having happily never had a personal need for disabled facilities, I’d kind of taken for granted that they were there.
I. Was. Wrong.*
I’ve been irritated by the array of empty disabled parks at the supermarket entrance, I’ve had my journey delayed by a bus ‘kneeling’ for a wheelchair to board, I’ve seen what I previously assumed were two zillion signs indicating flat-surface access.
But here’s the thing my day with wheels taught me: the number of obstacles is infinite.
According to Disabled Travel Advice, as of March, 48 out of a total of 270 functioning underground stations had step-free access from street to platform.
In my case, I needed to get to Tufnell Park in north London. I knew the station had a lift, so thought I was safe, and stupidly didn’t bother to check the Transport for London map.
When I got there (after faffing about using the wrong lift at King’s Cross, and taking a train south to Euston to change on to the northbound Northern Line), I realised there were two flights of stairs from the platform to the lift, and then another three steps from the top of the lift to the street.
My amazing sister (shout out) had come along for the journey “just in case”, so I had someone to help me into daylight, but the mistake made me appreciate how difficult getting around in a wheelchair would be.
There is a Step-free Tube guide for wheelchair users. I’m not great with instructions, but my gut feeling is that no one is going to find navigating this system easy.
The amount of planning needed to make a trip surely requires a project manager. I asked a station attendant to help me decipher the map, he ended up giving up, laughing and shrugging. Not great.
On a wider note, it made me think about all the times that I’ve presumed disabled access was a given at airports, train stations, on ferries, on buses, in hotels, at restaurants etc, and how many times I was probably wrong.
Here’s hoping travel increasingly becomes something more available and enjoyable for everyone – there’s still a long way to go.
* Dramatic punctuation because I find this highly unusual.