Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Observations on Accessibility

September 2, 2009 · 3 Comments

One thing that I have been noticing a lot about London is the accessibility and services available for people who are disabled or handicapped in some way.  Much like what you would tend to expect from American cities, there are handicap accessible entrances, ramps, elevators, and automatic doors leading to many of the major museums and tourist attractions around London.  However, I have observed less-than-wonderful wheelchair-friendly services in the Tube stations. 

Looking at the Underground map, there are only 9 stations within Zone 1 that have step-free access from the platforms to the outside world.  Now, I grant that the map shows that the bigger stations or those with rail stations attached tend to have wheelchair accessible facilities, but there are still a number of problems.  First, there’s the gap to mind, which while it is not beneficial to the elderly or buggy-pushers, seems to be a very large potential problem for people in wheelchairs and using crutches to get over.  Secondly, with the current construction projects occurring at many of the major Tube stations, some facilities that would normally be easier to maneuver around are currently out of order.  The only saving grace of the transport system for those movement-impaired seems to be the bus system.  From what I have noticed of the buses, the majority of them are fitted with a hydraulic system that either allows the bus to be lowered curbside or a platform for a wheelchair.

Despite my criticisms of the Tube as a vehicle of transport for people in wheelchairs, London has managed to greatly surprise me in the leaps-and-bounds of services for other handicapped peoples.  When I was at the British Museum the other day, I noticed a sign that mentioned that there is a Touch Tour for people who are blind or visually impaired.  I’ve never encountered anything like this before, but think that it is a brilliant idea!  This tour allows them to touch specific objects in certain sections of the Museum in order to get an idea of what the art from that culture “looks” like.  Accompanying these objects were plaques in Braille explaining the object they were “looking” at. 

Scarab from the Egyptian section of the Museum - on the Touch Tour

Scarab from the Egyptian section of the Museum - on the Touch TourSign for the Blind Touch Tour

I was struck again by the services provided for disabled/hard-of-hearing peoples tonight at the performance of All’s Well That Ends Well at the National Theatre.  One of the last things I was expecting when I entered the theatre was to have a closed captioning screen for the play!  Despite this service being aimed at those deaf/hard-of-hearing people, I benefited greatly from being able to see some of the dialogue I missed either by zoning out or simply not being able to hear.  Although I did find the screens slightly distracting at times, I think that it was a brilliant idea that should be implemented at many more theatres in the world.
Overall, I am finding London to be a very mixed city of accessibility and services for people who are disabled or handicapped in some way.  I think that the Tube stations need some work, but as construction is constantly being done on them, I know that they will be improved upon eventually.  On the other hand, I think that the Touch Tour and the closed captioning in the theatre were both wonderful ideas that should be implemented in the States and around the world if they haven’t already.  Any thoughts or observations on services and accessibility?

Categories: Kelley · Museums · Theatre
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3 responses so far ↓

  •   Chelsea Gilchrist // Sep 3rd 2009 at 16:24

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this as well, Kelley, but I didn’t think to turn it into a blog post!

    I first noticed the state of the Tube network last year, when I attempted to lug two overweight, rolling suitcases up flights of stairs on my journey from Heathrow to Victoria. Of course, I can’t complain being a able-bodied person who was only once inconvenienced by the system, but I did wonder how someone in a wheelchair or the like could maneuver the city: their choices of Tube stops that they can go and come from are severely limited, and this must force them to continue the rest of their journey on street level over occasionally huge distances. I assume this is something in the books to remedy with the remodels of many Tube stations, but I bet it can’t come quickly enough for hundreds of people.

    In addition to noticing that many shops and restaurants require the customer to step up into the store, I’ve also noticed that most of the doors in this country (including ones in our very own hotel) do not swing out, but in. If I’m not mistaken, this is against the fire code in America, since it can be next to impossible to pull open a door when there are many people pushing behind you to get out in an emergency. Of course, this isn’t directly related to ease-of-access, but I thought it was relevant enough to mention here and point out to everyone else in the event of an emergency (Mommy Chelsea has to look out for the flock!).

  •   kstaab77 // Sep 3rd 2009 at 18:03

    Chelsea, I was actually talking to someone about this today and the Tube is slowly getting better! The most recent adaptations and additions (like the Jubilee line) are much more accessible for people who are mobily-impaired. I think that London, and possibly a large part of England for all I know, still has a long way to go. However, I would bet that since London is committed to hosting the Olympic and Para-Olympic games in 2012, the services for people who are handicapped, disabled, or in wheelchairs will greatly improve.

  •   » The “Big Five” Themes Norwich Humanities 2009-10 // Sep 14th 2009 at 15:24

    […] is a subject I have talked about in a couple of different posts (Observations on Accessibility and Blood Painters and Pitmen Brothers), however, I have not discussed theatre in general.  I was […]

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