London's accessibility to people with disabilities has improved by leaps and bounds in the last five years ago. Five years ago, there were few accessible bathrooms, much less trains, buses, or hotels. However, the Anti-discriminatory Legislation of 2010, the upcoming Paralympics, and the advocacy and training efforts of organizations like Tourism for All UK, have improved London accessibility for the better.
Make sure you read our tips on public transit. It will give you some more detailed insight on how to navigate a system in transition. The good news is that there are far more Underground elevators (lifts), than ever before. The bad news is that they appear to be mostly in the east of London, with a scattering in the central, northern, southern, and western parts of the city. Planning is essential, and timing can be the difference between a frustrated attempt to board overcrowded vehicles, and a pleasant experience. The transit map will be your guide and lifeline. The good news is that there was plenty of assistance at every station.
Buses are a better situation. They do have priority areas and ramps on the great majority of the fleet. Pick your time of travel carefully. Buses get filled during rush hour, and no one will be asked to get off to accommodate you.
The Black Taxi fleet can fit wheelchairs of standard size and many have been refurbished with:
- RampsSwivel seat
- Intermediate step
- Seat sight patches
- Large coloured grab handles
- Induction loop
If you require a ramp or other service, you should still call in advance to get one because the odds of flagging one down are small.
Stations are accessible, ramps, elevators, induction loops, and priority areas are clearly visible. Assistance for people with disabilities is available, and staff is very good and well trained. They will get you and your baggage on the train and be sure that there is someone at your destination to assist. There are priority seating areas, as well.
The good news is that there is far more information on accessibility on individual attraction's websites these days. One of the oldest buildings in the city, the Tower of London, has a published accessibility guide, as well. While not all of the buildings are accessible in the Tower of London, the grounds, cafés, restrooms, and major attractions, like the Crown Jewels were very accessible. Other attractions, such as Shakespeare's Globe Theater offer a variety of accommodations for sight, hearing, and mobility impairments.
There was a time when you had to rely on McDonald's to be the accessible bathroom of choice. While this is still the case in some more remote areas of the city, the major tourist areas and attractions all had consistently good bathrooms that outshone many in the States! In the U.K., they have taken to creating individual bathrooms dedicated to those with disabilities. You will not just find a stall in the existing ladies' or mens' rooms. In most cases, there is ample room for turnaround and a companion. Bars were on either side of the toilet, and a sink was within the room. The great majority of these bathrooms also have emergency alarms attached to a cord, as well.
City Streets, Ramps, and Curb Cuts
Major thoroughfares are wide, and curb cuts are excellent! The curbs in London are not that high, so the cuts are not steep. The pavement in most of the areas is level, and they have bumps to alert the sight impaired of the oncoming intersection. Streets off the commercial or main thoroughfares are narrow, and curb cuts are hit or miss. Areas like the famous Portobello Street Market in Notting Hill or SoHo are quite narrow. In the cases of ramps, with the exception of some of the boat ramps, the steepness is consistent with what would find in the States.
Intercontinental Hotels Group, who owns the Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Holiday Inn Express and Crowne Plaza brands, has taken the lead in providing accessibility for all. Many have induction loops for the hearing impaired, braille and raised lettering, hoists in the guest rooms, and excellent bathrooms! Other brands have done a commendable job and continue to make improvements to accessibility in light of increased awareness. A few years ago, the legendary Copthorne Tara Hotel was one of the only hotels in London, and is still a leader, but many, many other properties are following the lead and making changes.
Fun and Accessible Things to Do
Make sure you consider a visit to Calvert Trust Exmoor. You can read more about the center here, but suffice it to say, that this is an idyllic setting to spend time with the family and enjoy adaptive recreation, including boating, confidence courses, horseback riding, cycling and many other exciting activities. Evenings are spent together enjoying each other's company while playing games, or participating in all sorts of fun.