Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Around London with a wheelchair

I’m now back in Bradford after my little adventure with a wheelchair user. On the whole it wasn’t too bad and we didn’t have lots of problems, but I still think an entry is warranted on the subject. Read on…

After rolling down the hill from the university rather faster than I’d anticipated, we arrived at Bradford Interchange. There was a lift up to the rail platforms which was a little under-signposted and small, but was adequate. There was also a ramp up there but it was a little steep. Once there, a station worker was there to meet us and wheel us onto the train, where there was a small spot for a wheelchair.

At Leeds, again there was someone to take us off the train, then take us over to the connecting train on another platform. This meant using the goods lift but this was simply because the passenger lift was right at the other end of the platform. There, we were wheeled into a reserved disabled bay in standard class – it was a newly refurbished train and had dedicated disabled bays with attention buttons for those travelling alone.

There was someone to help us at King’s Cross, and then we met up with friend #3 and went to McDonalds over the street. This was easier said than done – it was 17:45 and the station was utterly heaving with busy commuters (and the commuters in London are the busiest I’ve seen). McDonalds was fine until it came to using the toilets – or rather ‘the toilet’, which was equipped for disabled use but was locked and required a member of staff to open it.

So far, not so bad. But we hadn’t yet hit the tube. To get to Kensington Olympia, our next destination, meant getting a Piccadilly Line train from King’s Cross to Earl’s Court and then a District Line shuttle up to Olympia. And trust me, King’s Cross underground was not designed for wheelchair users. My friend had to get out and walk down three flights of steps (he can walk very short distances with crutches or handrails but it’s not very comfortable for him), and we had to balance the wheelchair on the escalator down to the tube platforms. With two people to help him he was alright but this would probably be impossible if he was unaccompanied. What really took the piss was that Scope had some of their campaign posters up on the advertising panels which say that it’s now illegal for publicly accessible buildings to not allow for ‘reasonable’ access for people with disabilities.

Earl’s Court was much better. There were lifts up from the platform, although they weren’t very well signposted and it was only thanks to a polite young lady who pointed them out to us that we avoided going up the escaltor with the chair. The District Line platforms have recently had lifts added and these were easily visible, so getting on there was less of an issue.

At Olympia, again, there was a disabled entrance (actually the trade entrance) but again this wasn’t signposted – we needed pointing in the right direction. We went there to see the end of the Ski and Snowboard Show (sponsored by the Daily Mail, of all people) which friend #3 has been at all week, which included a performance by some extreme skiers and snowboarders. There was seating but this meant going up some steps and there was nowhere to put a wheelchair, but fortunately security let us go into the VIP lounge where the view was much better anyway. The lift up there was tiny though and the wheelchair had to be partly dismantled so that it would fit in.

We then went onto an aftershow party held by a couple of snowsports magazines, which was in a function room at a nearby pub. Unfortunately this function room was upstairs and there were no disabled toilets there.

After that closed, we headed in the general direction of Ealing in West London which is somewhat closer to friend #3’s parents’ house. We took a black cab, which, especially in the newer models, can accommodate a wheelchair quite easily. Alas the club we went to when we got there was a little less easy – although there were only a couple of steps to get in there were no disabled toilet facilities. I’d also complain about the £10 entry fee and the fact that Fosters was the only beer on tap (everything else was in bottles, and Guinness was the only non-lager) but the general gist of this post is access so I’ll gloss over that.

On the way back this afternoon we missed the train we had originally aimed for so ended up catching a later train, which meant that the train company wasn’t expecting us and our seats weren’t reserved. The train was a converted Eurostar, which despite being the newest trains on the Leeds-London route fell down in the wheelchair arena. Firstly they had their own ramps because the standard ones used at stations are too wide, and the only disabled bay was in First Class. Thankfully, we got a free upgrade.

The rest of the journey wasn’t too much a problem, apart from going back up the hill again which was really hard work. I reckon I’ll sleep well tonight.

3 Comments

  1. so all in all, did you think it was a good experience, and how did you friend think it went?

  2. Interesting timing, The Independent has a story today of a night out with wheelchair users in London. Sounds very similar to your experiences.

  3. I was actually pleasantly surprised that we could do as much as we did – I was expecting it to be much worse than it was. My friend seemed to have a good time – he doesn’t get outside of Bradford much so this was quite a journey for him. Overall it was well worth it, even though my wallet is somewhat lighter as a result.