World Tourism Day: My Accessible Trip to London
Hear all about Emma Bailey’s travel tips and tricks when traveling in a wheelchair to London. Emma is our social media manager and just recently studied abroad there for one month. For more hacks on disability travel, read her blog here.
London is one of the most iconic cities in the world. There’s Big Ben, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and so, so many museums! There’s a LOT to see! For most people, the only planning required is trying to figure out how many of these attractions they can fit into their trip.
However, for disabled folks, planning a trip like this takes a lot more time and thought. Will there be accessible bathrooms? Are there elevators? Is their public transportation accessible? These are just a few questions that may go through a disabled person’s mind while trying to plan a trip.
Fear not! I’m here to help! I’m a wheelchair user due to a spinal cord injury back in 2018. I spent the entire month of July in London for a study abroad program through my college. Keep reading to find out how accessible I found the beautiful city of London to be!
First, let’s talk transportation. There are four main modes of transportation: bus, tube (subway), taxi, and train. I was able to try all of these except for the taxis.
I found myself riding the bus almost everyday because it was the most accessible. Every bus I rode had a button on the outside of the bus you press to notify the bus driver to let the ramp come out. There’s a designated spot for wheelchair users to sit and there’s buttons on the railings for you to let the driver know when you’re ready to get off.
Trains were the next most accessible mode of transportation. Everyone at the train stations were so helpful and accommodating in a non-offensive way. You should arrive at the station a few minutes early and go to the accommodation booth to let them know you’ll be needing a ramp at this station and at your stop. A few times I took the train I was put in first class because there was the most space, which was a nice treat! Other times I sat in a regular car in the designated space for wheelchair users. Most trains have fully accessible bathrooms with grab bars and plenty of space for rolling around.
The tubes were definitely the least accessible. I only rode it once because it was hard to find stations with elevators. The stations that were accessible had elevators to get down to the platform, level access onto the tube, and accessible bathrooms. I definitely think it’s quicker for wheelchair users to take the bus, plus you get a view of the city unlike the tubes! Here is a link to a guide that helps you avoid the stairs while using the tube.
Like I mentioned before, the taxis were the only mode of transportation I didn’t try. However, I’ve heard that all the black taxis have ramps that the drivers can get out for wheelchair users. Taking a taxi is quicker than the bus because you don’t have to make stops, but it’s definitely more expensive.
I went to quite a few museums while I was in London! You could spend HOURS in each. They’re incredible. Below is a list of the museums I visited that had lifts, accessible entrances, and accessible bathrooms:
• The British Museum
• Imperial War Museum
• National Gallery
• Victoria and Albert Museum
• Saatchi Gallery
• Tate Modern
• Museum of the Home
• The Wallace Collection
The only museum I really wanted to go to but couldn’t was The Tower of London. Friends told me there was a lot of cobblestone outside the museum. After researching, I found that the only part accessible to wheelchair users was the Crown Jewels. Unfortunately, every other part of the tower required stairs to access.
I found that rolling along the streets in the city wasn’t too difficult. Most streets were flat and most of the curbs had a slope allowing me to cross. I’m a quadriplegic so I often get tired pushing so I’d recommend using a power assist if you’re a manual wheelchair user. My Smart Drive came in handy throughout the trip.
These are a few random tips that didn’t necessarily fit within one of the categories above!
• Use CityMapper app to navigate transportation! This app helps get you where you want to go according to your preferred mode of transportation. There’s even a mode that creates a step-free route so you avoid stairs!
• Use WheelMate app to help you find accessible bathrooms. This app comes in handy if you’re out and about and need to find an accessible toilet.
• Plan ahead! Planning and making sure your trip is accessible will ease anxiety once you arrive!
Well, I hope that helps if you’re hoping to visit London! It’s seriously one of the most accessible cities I’ve visited! I can’t wait to visit again. Happy travels!