London has an alarming reputation for being inaccessible, with many areas retaining the original Victorian architecture. However, in recent years a number of improvements have been made to enable those who use mobility aids to enjoy many areas which had previously been inaccessible.
Accessible property can be difficult to find in London. To help with this, the Accessible Property Register and The House Shop have compiled lists of available accessible homes to rent and buy in the UK, making them invaluable resources for anyone living with mobility needs who is looking to live in London.
To assist residents further, the Accessible Property Register also lists accessible holiday homes in the UK, providing an additional resource for those seeking to escape the capital for a relaxing break.
As with all locations, it is best to contact the place you are visiting to check that their accessibility features match your requirements. To be deemed accessible in the UK, a business must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to remove barriers to access. However, there is no actual definition of reasonable, so what one business provides may be vastly different to another.
Museums And Theatres
All large museums and galleries in central London have made efforts to be accessible. Lifts have been installed inside and out, and standard accessible toilets are on all floors. Each museum and gallery also provides an accessibility map on their website which identifies the best routes for limited mobility and/or step free access.
There is an increasing awareness from West End theatres for the need for easier access to booking services, and most now provide an enquiry email service in addition to a phone number. Where an accessible seat is required for wheelchair users, an attendant ticket is also provided for free. For larger theatres, the charge for wheelchair access seats is set at the lowest price to reflect the lack of choice in position.
With many buildings in London being repurposed, businesses often find themselves in locations with difficult access, especially those in older buildings, which may be protected against structural change. Using tools such as Google Street View can be useful to identify how accessible a destination is. This can help to quickly establish, for example, whether the restaurant is one of the many basement eateries which are generally not accessible by lift. If the business has a few steps outside, then it is worthwhile contacting them to ask about ramp access.
When checking with a business, rather than just asking if they are accessible, it is better to ask direct questions about specific needs such as “do you have a wheelchair accessible toilet?”, “do you have step free access to get inside?”. You may find that asking such direct questions on a public social media page prompts a business to make adjustments if they have not already done so.
Much of central London public transport is operated by TfL (Transport for London) and allows you to pay as you go, using an Oyster Card which can be topped up online. By simply tapping your Oyster Card as you go through a tube gate or onto a bus, there is no need to fiddle with coins.
For non-wheelchair users, badges or cards are available which indicate you require a seat. Whilst they don’t guarantee that someone will give up their seat for you, most people will. The badges act as a clear reminder that not all disabilities are visible.
You can apply for a priority seat badge here.
All London buses have a wheelchair space and priority seating at the front for people with reduced mobility. If you are a wheelchair user, you will likely board the bus using the central doors, which all have automatic ramps. If a pushchair or pram is using the wheelchair space, it is now law that the driver must require them to fold down the pushchair to make room for a wheelchair. If this does not happen, you can contact TfL using their online form.
There is now step-free access on a quarter of all tube stations, with plans to increase this in the next few years. In fact, the new Jubilee line and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) are fully accessible, with level platforms being part of their design. In other stations, sections of the platform have been raised to allow level access to the train – these are referred to as ‘platform humps’. Alternatively, where neither are built into the design of the station, manual ramps are positioned at stations and a member of the platform staff will assist you.
A step-free map can be downloaded direct from the TfL website.
TfL do advise that you check that status of each station before you travel as many rely on a single lift, which if out of service may make the station inaccessible. However, if you arrive at a station and the lift is out of order, a member of staff will help you to plan a suitable alternative. If no suitable accessible alternative is available, TfL will book and pay for a taxi to your destination or the next available accessible station.
Depending on the mobility aids you use, black cabs may well be the most accessible regular taxi. All black cabs are fitted with ramps, swivel seats, grab handles, and induction loops for hearing aids, making them a reliably accessible, if more expensive option for travel.
Although most people use black cabs by hailing them on the street, you can also book them for a specific journey through the London Taxi Website.
Dial-A-Ride is a free transport scheme for anyone in London who is living with a permanent disability. They operate a free door to door minibus for shorter journeys, allowing you to get to local shops, libraries and so on. In order to join, you will need to apply for membership with proof of your disability, after which you can book a lift by email.
As the scheme is run by volunteers, they cannot accept every request and they advise that people don’t use the service for important appointments or travel to work.
Public toilets in London are often difficult to find, however the website Pee Place will help you locate your nearest accessible toilet anywhere in Europe. If you require a toilet with fully accessible features, the Changing Places UK Map is particularly helpful.
Overall, despite its reputation, London can be remarkably accessible for those living with mobility needs if they undertake some careful planning.