Thursday, June 18, 2009

Handicap Inaccessibility in the UK - When Lobbying Actually Works

There is a lot of talk about getting rid of lobbyists, and for the most part I agree. We tend to end up writing laws in the best interest of the minority instead of in the best interest of the majority. But the minority must be considered by the majority as well. In my recent trip to the UK I found an example of where lobbying really worked in the US. This is as it relates to legislation around handicap accessibility.

In the US it is a requirement that buildings and bathrooms be accessible to the handicapped. This is not so in the UK as, travelling with somebody mildly handicapped, became quite literally painfully obvious. In the castles and historical buildings this is to be expected. They were built way before the handicapped would be considered and while a wheel chair meant somebody was carrying you. At Edinburgh Castle the bathrooms were in what looked like a dungeon. But the most egregious example I saw of the inaccessibility was in the London underground. A modern facility. I was travelling with my parents and my mother has had a recent hip replacement and also needs to have her knees replaced. She walks well, if slowly, but stairs are difficult for her. And stairs were required to get anywhere, but especially in the underground. We decided to see London on foot and so I got a map of central London with the tube stops listed, and a tube map and we set off to see the sites. However, we quickly found that in order to get to the tube, stairs were required. If, on the rare occasion, there was an escalator, there was also at least one flight of stairs. If you needed to change tube lines, you had to go up or down stairs. To get out of the tube stop, you had to go up stairs. And I'm not talking 5 or 6 steps, but in some cases as many as 40. In a city where the public transport is encouraged, it doesn't make it easy for everybody.

On our last day in London, when I'd already worn my Mother out, we took the tube to Hyde park. By the time we arrived the public facilities were needed. But were the facilities in the tube station? Nope. You had to go up 20 stairs to get out to the public restrooms and then they were back underground. I've attached a picture of the stairs required to get to the public toilet. Seeing this my mother opted to wait and do the potty dance until we found a restroom in a nearby hotel. A suggestion made by a passerby. By the end of the day my mother was in so much pain from climbing stairs that she had to get a wheelchair in the airport. Something she has not had to do for quite some time. However, I do have to say that upon my return I was much stronger by having climbed so many stairs. It could be that the Brits are in better shape than we are because they HAVE to take stairs everywhere, but it does seriously limit the accessibility for those that are physically unable to climb them.

Our handicap accessibility was due to lobbying on Washington DC and I applaud them for this. There is an expense involved, but at least the building is available to all. So if you're planning on going to the UK, and especially if you're planning on taking the tube, you might want to build up your strength on the old StairMaster first.

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