Accessible: more than step-free

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.What’s it like for wheelchair users to navigate cities? Sandwich boards on footpaths, ramps too long or steep to use, and the housekeeping trolley left in the lift are just three examples. Free tickets to museum are useless if you can’t access the building or exhibits. Likewise a step-free entry does not make everything accessible. Neither is a bell at the door of an inaccessible building so that a staff member can offer to carry you in. After reporting on the most accessible city, Chester in UK, The Guardian asked readers across the globe share their experiences of accessing cities. Their stories make for interesting reading.

Inconsistency of access is a key issue for one wheelchair user. While one or two shops might make an effort, others don’t and some buses are accessible and others aren’t. Accessible toilets have such heavy door springs they are impossible to open. Another wheelchair user reported that some cafes and shops are accessible, but his choices are limited. It always means thinking ahead before leaving home. 

Having poor mobility and muscle strength means help is needed to carry things, but when the disability is invisible people are rarely willing to help. Similarly, standing on public transport can be painful, but at busy times no-one is willing to give up their seat. People with autism find public transport very stressful. Autism is another invisible disability that gets very little consideration.

Taking an adult child out for the day is impossible without a suitable toilet facility. Consequently it means staying home. Holidays are just a dream. 

Damaged or non-existent kerb cuts, potholes, out of order lifts, shops with narrow entrances are all barriers to getting out and about for a wheelchair user and anyone with limited mobility. 

The title of The Guardian article is, ‘I feel like a second-class citizen’: readers on navigating cities with a disability.