Smart Transport

The way we design transport is not equal for disabled

For the roughly one-in-five in the UK who are disabled, day-to-day travel is a greater challenge than for the able-bodied, reports Laura Laker

The UK Government’s Inclusive Mobility Strategy sets out an ambition that people with disabilities have the same access to transport as everyone else, able to travel confidently, easily and without extra cost.

It envisions a transport system with equal access for disabled people by 2030, with future transport technologies and services designed inclusively.

For Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, British Paralympian, disability campaigner and House of Lords peer, it’s the latest in a long line of unfulfilled promises.

She says: “In the mid-1990s, I sat on the Disability Council for the Disability Discrimination Act. We were promised in 2020 would be accessible, and back then it seemed a long way off.”

Although some progress has been made, for wheelchair users it is far too little.

“We are nowhere near step free”, says Grey-Thompson. “It’s still way too complicated for disabled people to travel.

“Successive Governments have pushed it into the long grass.” 

In a legal and ethical analysis of transport for people with disabilities, report authors Heather Bradshaw-Martin and Catherine Easton say “lack of adequate independent transport excludes people from employment, social life, education and access to medical care”, with “significant negative social, health and economic impacts, especially for older people”.  

They found transport problems the major reason disabled people were unable to gain employment, or keep a job. 

Almost every element of our transport network is problematic, including how services are administered.

Missing links in provision mean people don’t take the trips they need to conduct a normal, fulfilling life.

For people with disabilities, going to the shops, to work, getting on a bus, crossing a road are still fraught with stress and frustration and, in the worst cases, a risk of injury. 

Government recognises the economic cost.

The Inclusive Mobility Strategy sets out the aim that a million more disabled people are in work by 2027, citing the already £249 billion spending power of households with a disabled person in them.

In 2012, 46.3% of disabled people of working age were in employment compared with 76.4% of those without disabilities.

Disabilities are as unique as human beings themselves, and individuals may be impacted by similar conditions in different ways.

Kay Inckle, a disability researcher, says: “There are massive transport barriers for people with physical disabilities, including trains and buses which, although they are branded accessible, in practice they aren’t. There is a lack of joined-up thinking in transport policy.”

Inckle says perceptions of disabled people are often stereotyped and limited.

“Disabled people are also only ever considered in the same group as older people, never as commuters, parents, students etc. and this creates policy and infrastructure which excludes and limits disabled people and does not meet our needs.”

Infrastructure and policies created on the assumption disabled people are dependent on others, and don’t travel alone, builds in dependence, campaigners say, resulting in infrastructure and equipment that cannot easily be used by a lone disabled traveller.

This includes heavy wheelchairs, tactile paving that stops wheelchairs dead and meanwhile a lack of joined up thinking creates end-to-end journeys with missing links, meaning disabled people can’t make trips, such as new accessible buses serving neighbourhoods without drop kerbs, or new accessible trains serving stations that aren’t step free.

Read Laura Laker's full article on physical disability and travel from Smart Transport Journal



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