Priorities over price tags- The Accessible Link #19
It's not about the money, money, money...
Accessibility is not about money. It's about priorities. Whenever someone tells you accessibility is expensive and can't be done, especially in newly-built projects, they likely have different priorities than you. Sometimes, not even £1 billion is enough to provide flawless accessibility.
£1 billion but no contingency plan
I give you an example: London Bridge Station. The station reopened in 2018 after five years of construction "as part of the biggest railway upgrade since the Victorian era," according to Network Rail. It even has level boarding into some trains (yay!). So what is wrong with London Bridge?
Every wheelchair user in London who is using London Bridge station regularly can tell a story about broken lifts at this station. If only one lift breaks down, two platforms become entirely inaccessible. There is no second lift, not even a goods lift. Platforms are only served by one lift - at a station with 60+ million passengers yearly before COVID. When you spend £1 billion, surely there must be money for a second lift to every platform, right? Where is the contingency plan? That's priorities, not money.
Wrong side of the street
And then my bugbear at this station: The taxi rank. Who thought it was a good idea to let taxis stop on the right-hand side in a country where we drive on the left? The problem: Taxi ramps for wheelchair users are only on the left-hand side of the vehicle (because that's where we usually drive in the UK).
So, the normal London Bridge taxi rank next to the Shard is inaccessible to wheelchair users. Then, they planned a workaround. Universal design? Not so much. A second taxi rank away from the normal one was built, but that's not where the taxis and the public wait. That's for wheelchair users only.
The taxi rank without taxis
I have travelled quite a lot from this taxi rank recently. When people are queuing at the mainstream right-side taxi rank, I will get ignored. I can wave and dance, but the taxi drivers at the main rank don't see me because they are already busy with walking customers at their taxi door on the right-hand side.
And not every wheelchair user can wave and dance. The taxis pass me when they leave the rank. That's when they see me; some drivers even stop and apologise because they spot me only then. I believe them when they say they didn’t want to ignore me. They didn’t see me. The design of this forecourt makes wheelchair users invisible.
The inaccessibility of this taxi rank is not a money issue. It needed better planning. I hope this was a genuine mistake they tried to fix later, not another decision-maker having the wrong priorities.
So whenever someone tells you accessibility is not possible with a certain budget, question their priorities before you ask for more money. Money can’t fix mindsets.
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Some interesting links
Dementia-friendly tourism is on the rise - the National Geographic reports on best practice projects around the world.
Wheelchair users normally use an aisle chair or an Eagle lift to deboard a plane, but a British man was leaving the plane on top of a drink trolley in Vancouver. British Airways offered him £500 in compensation.
QR codes will make navigating the subway in New York easier for visually impaired people and non-English speakers. I saw them in the DLR station at Woolwich Arsenal last week, too.
Something to watch
I love these ramps. The Eurostar has them; they are common in the Netherlands, and I've seen one or two in Germany. They are far easier to use than 18% incline train ramps without handrails.
[Video description: A wheelchair user with a wheelchair add-on goes up a train ramp that is parallel to the train, has a flat platform and then a second small ramp into the train. The length of the ramp makes it less steep and has in parts handrails. It can be folded down onto a device with wheels and can easily pushed away by staff]
Something else to watch
In this compelling TED Talk, author and advocate for disability rights, Kings Floyd, portrays the profound impact that the lack of accessible design has on disabled people. She highlights how inclusive infrastructure is crucial in strengthening the bonds among friends, family, and the broader community.
Some final words
“Honesty and openness is always the foundation of insightful dialogue.” (Bell Hooks)
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Who is writing this newsletter?
I’m Christiane Link, and I improve the customer experience in aviation, transport, and travel. I worked as a journalist for over two decades and travelled extensively for business and leisure. I’m a wheelchair user. If you want to read more from me, follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Bluesky or Mastodon. You can also reply to this email if you want to contact me.