Hi, I’m Alex, a new contributor to TfA. I’m a twenty something wheelchair user and freelance journalist with a passion for music, life and getting where I want to go, no matter what the obstacle – including trains and flights of stairs.
Let’s be honest, inaccessible services mean that it takes longer for us to travel and get around. The solution is as simple as it is tedious: plan ahead. This means checking out the best routes on TFL journey planner in advance, as well as investigating the accessibility of the bars, clubs and other venues you want to attend.
The internet can help here, but do be wary – some information pages can list venues as being accessible, only for the reality to be different. Last year I was visiting a bar with some friends, only to find the promised “access” was limited to the ground level. Little use when the packed dance floor lay up a flight of stairs…
(But I did get free drinks as a result)
Visit Blue Badge Style for handy accessibility reviews of venues across the country.
Remember, it is no longer necessary to book ramp or boarding assistance 24 hours in advance for the tube and overground, so you are now free to turn up and travel on the go. Unfortunately, you still have to book 24 in advance for National Rail trains. But sometimes you may find some friendly staff happy to help you.
Speaking honestly, although most guards are happy to assist, I have found some to be curt, feeling it is not their job to help with ramps If a problem arises, remain calm and respectful and explain your position. If they still don’t listen, read the riot act.
Some stations, such as Waterloo, have dedicated platform staff who should be present at all running hours.
The Freedom Pass
This is your route to free travel on public transport around London, so don’t forget it! And remember, if it’s been a particularly wild night, passes turn invalid from the last train (but NOT tube) until 9:30am the following morning. However, in my experience, if you speak nicely to the train gatekeeper they will let you through.
Since the London Underground is broadly inaccessible for people using wheelchairs or needing an alternatives to stairs, the London Taxicard Scheme can be a real life saver. It allows you to make a set number of subsidised journeys in licensed London taxis. The number of trips you are allocated differs depending on which borough you live in. To find out if you’re eligible, click here.
When using the card, it’s best to book in advance – either online or over the phone – as the service only applies to Computer Cab vehicles, otherwise you could find yourself waiting a long time at a taxi rank if you chance your luck.
In my experience, the service is very flexible. There are no time restrictions; drivers are more than happy to pick you up in the early hours of the morning if you don’t fancy a long, winding journey home on the night bus.
This isn’t to say buses on their own are a bad transport option. All London buses are fitted with ramps, which work well – most of the time. In reality buses may be the only way home between 1 – 5am if you do not have a Taxicard.
Drunk, emotional people
Having a good time loosens people up. As a wheelchair user, I have lost count of how many times people, who’ve had a little too much to drink, decide to tell all about disabled relatives, or reveal they understand what being disabled is like because they once broke a toe and were confined to a wheelchair for a week. I find these situations amusing and try to be respectful; there isn’t any malice intended.
However, I appreciate some people may feel differently, in which case keep it’s a good idea to keep your friends close to act as a shield.
Without wanting to be too graphic, toileting can be a hassle for those with mobility difficulties. To make matters worse, some establishments (especially clubs) offer access, without providing disabled toilet facilities. Therefore, as part of “the planning”, work out when might be best to make a trip to the loo, and at least try to balance alcohol intake accordingly.
Friends or carers?
It’s normal for people with mobility difficulties to need extra assistance. The exact requirements differ for everyone, but think about whether you’d be happy for a friend to help, or if you’d prefer a professional assistant to handle that side of things. I know that in my case, many friends are more than willing to help, but I personally feel the need to draw a line between friends and those providing personal care.
Keep your cool
As much as strangers can be friendly on nights out, I have experienced disability hate. When people are abusive, I hold my own, but of course remember I am in a weaker position. Refuse to rise to the taunts and you can’t lose…otherwise you run the risk of having your evening spoilt.
Those in wheelchairs can be sitting ducks for thieves. Therefore, keep your phone on you (I have mine around my neck), and make sure important items are stored at the bottom of your bag, or in a hidden compartment.
Unless you’ve met the love of your life, it might be a good idea to leave before closing time to avoid the crowds. Then again, you shouldn’t let your difficulties hold you back. If it’s a good night, keep going and enjoy yourself!
Don’t hesitate to contact Transport for All helpline if you need any advice on accessible transport. Click here for more info.