Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Welcome to London!

After yesterday's trip to London, and a subsequent twitter exchange with Craig, I decided it might be interesting to start a blog. In the interests of clarification, I have about fourteen other blogs. Nine on tumblr, two on my own hosting, one on livejournal, and two on wordpress. However, I don't have any other blogs here, so I thought I might start one.

Now, the rest of my blogs are rather single issue. And that single issue tends to be gender. Or occasionally accessibility. Or reblogging hot pictures of naked guys, from time to time, I'll be honest. However, this blog I want to use to tie them all together a bit, and blog about all sorts of things that are interesting. Still, being true to form, I intend to begin with accessibility.

Welcome to London.

I use a wheelchair, to some extent. Suddenly, rather less welcome to London, especially without friends, new friends, who I fear got a crash course in how London works if your body doesn't! Namely either a) you spend 8 hours on a bus and travel 20 metres* or b) you negotiate escalators (hey, you can go up them safely in a wheelchair) and stairs (I'm amazed I didn't fall), and hope for the best. And I'm lucky, because b) is actually an option for me. Still, this is only relevant if you get into London to start with, which with my train company (South West Trains) requires 24 hours notice. I've never given that, and although I've been shouted at a few times, I've generally made it!

Now, London is an amazing city. I love it to pieces. Walking over Waterloo bridge at night (or the bridge that hangs from cables. Forgotten the name. You know the one I mean) is one of my favourite pastimes. Finding new places (like that tea shop somewhere in Brick Lane area) and exploring the city makes me so happy, but doing it in a wheelchair is somewhat harder.

Our plan for the day (the one in retrospect we actually carried out, rather than the one we intended) was something like this:
*Get train to London
*Go to Marx's grave
*See OccupyFS
*See Bank of Ideas
*Have tea
*Wander
*Get train home

I have no idea how many flights of stairs all of that involved climbing, but I'll hazard a guess at 10. Less than a week ago I landed on my neck falling down a flight of stairs (though I might have consumed a small amount of alcohol), and in general, they're not my strength. Now, huge kudos to my friends for helping me manage them, I couldn't have done it without them, but do you know what the real issue is? They shouldn't have had to.

Friends shouldn't be forced to become carers, to push my wheelchair because I've expended so much energy on stairs, to carry my chair, to half carry me. They just shouldn't. And with the paralympians coming in 2012, is this what's going to be expected of the wheelchair users amongst those? That they take impractical, often broken buses, that take hours to cross short distances, or that their friends be forced to go above and beyond to help them?

This is (a segment of) the transport system London has to offer:
Missing a few stations? So am I. Those are the wheelchair accessible stations. And consider please, that TFL considers a gap of 32*25cm "step free".

When the Olympics have come, other cities have taken it as a reason to improve accessibility hugely. Look at Barcelona, where almost all the buses have working ramps, a huge number of metro stations are accessible, and they'll put you in a cab if the station isn't. Compare that to nearby Catalonian cities, and it's incredible. It isn't perfect (damn hills), but it's a lot better than London (and I'd say better than Spain's most accessible city - Palma).

With a tube maintenance schedule booked up until 2025, I believe, I'm not sure that making it more accessible is a priority. But considering the new buses, I think it should be.

Welcome to London, I hope you like stairs!


*Exaggeration may be present

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