As London grinds to a halt today, my Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of people complaining about their two hour struggle to make it into work. Many offices - including my own - are half-empty because people have been unable to make it in. But as I sit here typing this (as someone who has made the journey in), I am all too aware that this is nothing new for disabled Londoners.
I live in a part of London not well-served by accessible public transport. I have tried many, many times to use public transport to go to work, but this has proved difficult. My commute takes over two hours each way and involves three buses, as no local tube stations are accessible.
As a wheelchair user, it is difficult and at times impossible to take a bus at rush hour. Anyone who knows me will say I am no shrinking violet, but I find it very challenging to get passengers to make space for me in the designated wheelchair space. The reliability of bus ramps is also not good – in just one week the bus ramps were faulty on half the journeys I took.
When I moved to London from Ireland in the mid-1990s, there was no accessible transport. I had to take taxis everywhere. Early in my career, I didn’t have a lot of money and I used my credit card to pay for them, which meant running up a huge bill. I seldom went out, and reduced my heating and grocery bill to help pay travel costs.
Luckily for me, Access to Work, an amazing scheme which supports disabled people to work, now covers my transport costs. But the sad fact is that in the past twenty years, while there have been many improvements, disabled people are still unable to use vast sections of the public transport system.
Just 66 of London’s 270 tube stations are step-free. Leonard Cheshire, the disability charity, has found that if you are a wheelchair user, you can use just one-tenth of the Central line. Other lines are little better. Only the DLR has step-free access at every station.
Shops, restaurants, cafes, music venues, offices in London – places most people take for granted - are often out of bounds, because they are inaccessible. Or staffed with people who don’t have a clue about disability. It didn’t shock me to find out that three-quarters of disabled people and their families have left a shop or business because of the poor attitudes of staff.
This strike will be over tomorrow morning and Londoners will get back to their normal commute. But if you are disabled, every day feels like a tube strike.Reuse content