As host city for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games in 2012, London has been presented with a unique opportunity to make itself as accessible as possible for visitors with mobility problems. However, extra services and facilities for people with a disability are set to coincide with additional pressures on the transport network from the increased volume of people arriving for sporting events, which will see London at its busiest.
Although the standard and quality of provision for people with a disability varies between hotels, restaurants and sights in London, considerable choice exists across the board so you should find what you are looking for. For a useful list of accessible hotels, restaurants, shops, pubs, attractions, banks and entertainment venues in the capital (and across the UK), check out Inclusive London.
Although the London transport network is not 100% accessible, with appropriate forward planning, visitors with mobility problems should be able to get around London without too much difficulty. Plan your trip on the Transport for London site, leave plenty of time, and if possible have an alternative route prepared. For specific Olympic events, use the Spectator Journey Planner on www.london2012.com. Journey planning assistance is also available on the 24-hour helpline (0843 7222 1234) or use Textphone on 020 7918 3015. With specific reference to the Olympic Games, the London 2012's Accessibility page is a very useful resource, from accessible seating to travel options.
London Underground, Overground and the DLR
Seats are available on most London Underground, London Overground and Docklands Light Railway platforms, while audio and visual info is provided on most trains and platforms. Most stations have wide ticket gates for wheelchair access or those with guide dogs. The London Underground itself has become more accessible (over 60 stations are step-less between street and platforms) but most 'tube' stations still present challenges for people with a disability, with gaps between the platform and the carriage door and high vertical gaps into the carriage from the platform (although all trains have clearly marked priority seating next to doors) or are simply inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. It is worth noting that Central London can be quite compact: it may be quicker to get between points under one’s own steam than using the underground.
Consult www.london2012.com's Accessible Travel page for a map of accessible stations in London, highlighting 2012 venue stations with the best access arrangements for people with a disability, stations with staff assistance available, stations with step-free access between the entrance and the train or tram, or step-free access from the entrance to the platform. The page has an equivalent map of National Rail stations for towns hosting Olympic events in the southeast near London and around the UK. Visitors can pre-book assistance at London Overground stations by calling 0845 601 4867 (give at least 48 hours advance notice). Pre-booking is not necessary on London Underground and DLR services.
Most of the city’s 8000 buses are low-floor (with a retractable ramp) for wheelchair access, equipped with priority seats near doors for people with a disability and have space for one wheelchair on each bus. The next stop, the route number and the final destination of the bus are all automatically announced. Guide dogs can travel on buses. The old red Routemaster double-decker buses were not wheelchair accessible, but the newly redesigned version introduced in 2012 has corrected this, although the fleet is limited at present.
All licensed London black cabs are wheelchair-accessible and come equipped with induction loops, intercoms, intermediate steps, grab handles and other features; assistance dogs can board. If booking a licensed minicab, check on the accessibility features available or request a particular vehicle.
If you are driving, Blue Badge parking (for drivers with a disability) can be booked on the London 2012 site; you should also consult www.parkingforbluebadges.com. Also look at the London 2012 website for details on Park & Ride (including accessible parking spaces for vehicles) before you catch a wheelchair accessible shuttle to the Games venue.
For river services, all piers are wheelchair accessible, with step-free access from pier to boat, but passengers should consult individual operators about the level of accessibility on board their boats.
Launched in 2010, Barclays Cycle Hire is an excellent way of getting around for those who are able to cycle, have a credit or debit card and are over the age of 14 (or 18 to hire independently). Hundreds of docking stations supplying thousands of the three-speed public-use bikes are dotted around London. The pricing structure encourages short journeys.
Transport for London has a large print downloadable guide to Getting around London and also provides a free Dial-a-Ride service for people with a disability who are unable to use public transport - check the website.
Beyond London, the National Rail site employs an interactive tool (Stations Made Easy) on its Passengers with Disabilities page for planning your route through stations. Move the cursor over the map and photographic images of various parts of the station appear. For coach travel, National Express has a 24-hour helpline and can assist people with a disability if given notice of 24 hours - the company aims to have a 100% accessible coach network by early 2013.
London is generally well provided with disabled loos, from fast food outlets, to shopping centres, cinemas and public conveniences. Use the search engine on Inclusive London to find one.
- Inclusive London: a comprehensive website detailing Olympic venues and other sites around London with icons indicating provisions made for each listing, including guide dog accessibility, wheelchair access, disabled lift provision, facilities for the partially sighted or blind.
- First Group Games Travel: for direct coach services to the Olympics and Paralympics, including a wheelchair space on each service. Running to ExCeL, Greenwich Park, Weymouth and Portland and the Olympic Park.
- Transport For All.
To find out more about all the British capital has to offer, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet's Pocket London guide.