They say travelling changes you. It’s expands your outlook. It makes You more tolerant of things you can’t control.
It’s my capital city. How can i not love it? Westminster bridge, whitehall, lost looking tourists walking in literal circles round Covent garden…then the other bits, the bits you discover after you come to realise you are no longer a tourist here. The bits like the feel of north London, strolling round camden, people daring to talk to each other in bars, running over German backpackers toes in hostels…no one really belongs here and especially not I.
Unlike most of my recent visits to London, this wasn’t a flying “volunteer” one. This was little old me trying to show my Canadian friend round Great Britain (and believe me, she saw quite a lot in a few days!) allowing her to appreciate how diverse this country is. My friend happens to have cerebral palsy and does not use a wheelchair, however walking and standing for a long time is a challenge and so I really had to adapt and think not only about how to get around in a wheelchair but also how to get around London without walking too far, too often.
Buses are fine for me. Not so great for my friend who’s travelling alone for the first time and struggles with direction. However, I pat the buses on the shoulder for doing a good job.
Cabs are fine for both of us, when they stop. (And no, it’s not because I look northern!) I have heard off a few cabbies that people drive past when they see a wheelchair waiting because they can’t be bothered having to get the ramp out…isn’t that kind of their job?
The tube! Don’t even go there! I’ve never been on it! Now, I do know a few spinal cord injured wheelchair users who do use it, but their level of injury is either incomplete or a lot lower than mine and so their wheelchair skills are far more superior. If I ever lived in London, I guess I’d attempt certain lines and stations and improve on my escalator and step skills. However, if someone, for example, a vancouverite wheelchair user who’s used to the most accessible city in the world and skytrain, this may prove just a little frustrating…
The truth is. To anyone coming from anywhere west of the west coast of Ireland, London is a beautiful, old story telling grandma who feeds you cakes, stories and enchants your mind. However, once you break that enchantment, particularly looking from a “disabled access” point of view, it’s an irritating old man who sits in his arm chair all day, refusing to move and gaining more and more pressure sores as the time goes by and the grandkids move on. All the while, grandma is left alone; bslowly but surely forgetting her stories and no ones here to make any new ones…
And sadly, as a disabled traveller that’s what I’m worried London will start to become. Many things need to be done to make London a more accessible city. If you believe the rubbish reasoning that the tube cannot me made accessible because it’s a very old transport system then well done you, go join the closed minded crew. But if you’re like me, and acknowledge that yes, London and the tube and everything about the place is “old” but with the right thinking and innovation, can be adapted, then please don’t just accept and hide behind the “we can’t do this because of health and safety” excuse. Make a sacrifice, spend some (and I know it’s a bloody lot!) money because you know, I might start spending some in your business, too!
The one thing I loved about Vancouver is I didn’t have to spend my life in “mainstream” shops I could find anywhere…I could get into pretty much every shop. In London, in these huge grand buildings, there’s always a tiny and yet high little step blocking my way into any place that isn’t a Starbucks…yes, if im alone (which i often am, i could ask a member of the public to give me a hand, but why should I, when I know I want to just have a browse and that flattening a high step in a huge porch way would not ruin the history of the building, it’d just be a tiny, simple adaptation.
I always say it, but we must adapt in order to survive. Right now, London might still be a cuddly Grandma with lots of stories to tell, but give her and the gran kids a few years, let them grow up. If old grandad doesn’t get off his back side and do something soon, then the grand kids will stop coming to visit.