Whether it’s a temporary Christmas market or planning everyday routes, accessibility around the UK has steadily gained awareness over the years. Today it is a key concern for many people, from the government and local councils to public transport providers. Unfortunately, while the introduction of new laws and legislation such as The Equality Act 2010 has helped to drive action across the country, disabled people continue to face everyday obstacles.
Why accessibility in the UK is so important
Without a focus on accessibility many people living with a disability struggle with small everyday tasks many of us take for granted, and long-distance trips can start to seem impossible. Even cities like London struggle with accessibility despite increasing pressure to ensure everyone can experience a completely accessible visit.
By understanding how accessibility has been developed and improved publicly, those with a disability can better plan their trips while public bodies and businesses can spot potential gaps in their accessibility plans and improve for the future. Remember, The Equality Act 2010 is there to protect anyone with a disability and ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to make their lives easier. If you feel like a service provider or business hasn’t accommodated to your needs and your access to the service was obstructed or even prevented altogether, there is action you can take.
How accessibility has improved in the UK
Both government and private travel providers have started to take more action to ensure that their services are as accessible as possible. While there has been a clear focus on wheelchair and other mobility accessibility, sight and hearing impairment are also starting to be addressed in many areas.
Buses have always been some of the most accessible forms of transportation in the UK, but more recent government regulation has helped to improve bus service even more, particularly in London. While many buses were equipped with some kind of wheelchair ramp system, wheelchair bays, priority seating and other adjustments that could be made accommodate wheelchair users, since January 2017 it is required by law that all buses have these adjustments. There are also new regulations for bus drivers as well, including:
- All guide and assistance dogs must be allowed onto buses.
- Drivers can no longer ask a disabled passenger to leave the bus because of their disability.
- Wheelchairs up to a certain size must be allowed on the bus.
- All drivers must be familiar with the wheelchair adjustments including ramp systems and must deploy the ramp for all wheelchair users.
Disabled passengers travelling on any TFL service can now get detailed advice on the accessibility of their route and can be given an alternative route that is more accessible. They can even provide a mentor to help passengers with the first few journeys of their route if required. In an attempt to address the notorious accessibility problems of many London over- and Underground stations, most of which are old and were never built with accessibility in mind, TFL has slowly increased the number of accessible stations. New ramps or lifts mean a quarter of London’s Underground stations and over half of the over-ground stations are now accessible along with most piers.
Tour operators and service providers
It’s not just government legislation that is driving change. There are now more tour operators and travel providers that are taking on the accessibility challenge, plus many public bodies and organisations that offer advice and help to businesses who want to know more about implementing accessibility adjustments.
Tourism for All is a specialist tour operator who helps anyone with a disability plan accessible holidays and breaks in the UK, but they also provide advice to businesses, policy makers and healthcare professionals to help spread awareness and improve accessibility across the country. Organisations like this have helped to introduce more lifts, ramps, hearing aids, brail and other sight or hearing impairment services in museums, theatres, banks and other public buildings. You can now often find disabled access information directly on the service providers website, or find a number to contact someone about planning and accommodating your visit.
Similarly, the UK bus company Stagecoach is now leading the march towards a more accessible future and have taken on visual impairments as well as mobility accessibility. This has resulted in the introduction of new company policy including:
- Drivers must stop for any waiting person at any designated stop.
- Drivers must inform any blind or partially-sighted passenger for their service number and destination.
- Drivers must provide assistant with payments.
- Drivers must inform any blind or partially sighted passenger when they reach their required stop.
A long way to go to improve accessibility
While this all sounds promising, there is unfortunately still a long way to go until the UK is as accessible as it needs to be to ensure that everyone has equal access.
Despite definite improvements in many areas, the UK still has a long way to go to meet their accessibility goals. Trains and train stations, in particular, are still one of the most difficult forms of transport to use for all kinds of disabilities. Three-quarters of Underground stations and almost half of over-ground stations leaves a lot of accessibility gaps and many of the most accessible journeys available are much longer and even more expensive than they should be. Even the trains themselves can be a problem with many lacking enough functioning disabled toilets.
Forgetting blind and deaf people
Even the stations that are accessible to wheelchair users still often don’t accommodate other disabilities such as hearing or sight impairments. Many last-minute platform changes, delays and cancellations are announced via intercom, leaving anyone with a hearing impairment without the latest information they need to continue their journey safely. Where hearing aids have been introduced, such as visual displays and hearing loops, there are often not enough around or are notorious for not working. In fact, this lack of focus on other types of disabilities is common with many public transportations.
We’ve also discussed in the past how everyday accessibility on the road can be a problem. Road works in particular may not always put in a proper ramp solution to help wheelchair users cross the road at potential dangerous works areas.
Many other older areas or buildings also lack ramp or lift access with many people not realising how affordable and easy a temporary ramp solution can be to install and address these problems. While big companies like Google are looking to address these everyday mobility concerns, there is still a long way to go for many individuals and smaller businesses or local councils that are slow in taking on the accessibility challenge.