Britain doesn’t have an Americans with Disabilities Act

Great Britain doesn’t have an Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, you may say, why would Britain care about Americans with Disabilities. What I mean by this are that conditions for those with disabilities in Britain seem much harsher than in the US. In particular, I will note the public transport system, especially the rail system.
To be clear, Britain does have a
Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. It is just that the requirements that are made of extant systems are much more modest than the US.
The reason I note this is not, fortunately, because anyone in my household is physically disabled, rather because as I and my wife take our 2 year old son out in a stroller, we notice problems that just don’t appear in the US. In part this is because we don’t use public transport much in the US, but if we were to use rail transport, there would be an elevator to get to the platform at every station. Even where it would not be difficult to provide a ramp, a short staircase is often the only alternative. Sometimes, a long staircase is required, leading to the stroller carry (which is easier than unbuckling and rebuckling, especially if our son is sleeping).
A quick review of the TfL Underground map shows the extent of the problem, only stations with the wheelchair have lifts or are level with the ground.
One could argue this is about economic efficiency, retrofitting hundreds of stations would be expensive. But the relevant value here is not efficiency but equity and inclusion, if economic efficiency were the criteria, one would make almost no accomodations for the disabled.
This is one more case where the buses beat the trains. Buses are a short enough step that manipulating a stroller is not too difficult. They also have better accomodation for wheelchairs than trains, though in four months here, I have only seen one wheelchair on a bus.
“Barely hospitable” is the phrase my wife uses to describe London. Many Underground patrons are quite helpful in lifting one end of the stroller while one of us has the other, it is the infrastructure that is not designed for anyone who who is not fully mobile.
Most of the sidewalks do have curb cuts, though the rough surfaces make wheeling along them less than optimal, but not impossible.
Finally, one must ask about the omnipresent urban slogan: “Mind the Gap”. Why can’t trains and platforms be level? London has had over a century to get this right on even the deep-tube lines. I understand that the trains in the deep-tubes (e.g. Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Northern) differ from those on the older (e.g. Metropolitan, District, Hamersmith & City) lines, but how hard could it be to make the stations level with the trains they do serve, to minimize if not eliminate the gap. For all of the human energy devoted to installing Mind the Gap signs and making the everpresent announcements, rectifying the original problem would have been warranted, and probably less expensive.

6 thoughts on “Britain doesn’t have an Americans with Disabilities Act

  1. I could not agree more, in the past the disabled have been an after thought (if considered at all) at the planning stage. This should have changed in August 2006 when the requirement for DDA design/access statements came into force as part of commercial planning applications. To date I have not heard of one planning department which has implemented this requirement (please put me right if you know of one). This forces developers, architects etc. to include the disabled at the plannining stage and not as an after thought. I am seriously considering objecting to all relevant planning applications until a DDA design/access statement has been submitted.

  2. Old subway stations in the US often aren’t handicapped accessible. It only applies to new buildings, or renovations (you have to make the building handicapped accessible when you renovate it), and there’s various ways around it (and many reasonable reasons for that). Regardless of handicapped accessibility of public transit, most US cities have on-demand transit just for the handicapped.

  3. As a transit planner focusing on disability access issues in the US, I would like to add that On-Demand transit should only be considered a temporary work around.
    In our system, On-Demand, or Paratransit services are only utilized by individuals who are unable to use the fixed-route services (By the specific impairment related to their disability, by the location of the nearest public transit access points at their trip origin and destination, or by the accessibility of the lines they need to use).
    In the US Separate-but-equal is not a sound or legal doctrine of public accommodation. We don’t tolerate a national transit program that provides separate services based on passengers’ race, religion or national origin. Likewise, we won’t create a national transit network that will discriminate on the basis of age, disability or income status.

  4. What David is forgetting is the London is over a thousand years old, roads and routes date back to the Roman occupation of Britain and as for the Underground system; The first line (Metropolitan) and the older deep tube lines (Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Central) were built at the turn of the 20th century when Disabled access was the last priority. These are indeed inpractical for disabled users but as the Jubilee line extension to Stratford shows, the Underground system is more disabled friendly than ten years ago.
    The two type of trains: ‘Deep Tunnel’ and ‘Cut and Cover’ trains are used because the size of the tunnels are different and lines such as the Jubilee, Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central are most below ground while the District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines are above ground. Access for Disabled usage on both types is being improved.
    The reason why the ‘Mind the Gap’ slogan is used is because some stations such as Waterloo, Piccadilly Circus and Bank are built in a curve because of various roads or indeed cellers and buildings above it.
    David ask’s ‘how hard is it minimize the gap’. Well they cannot minimize the gap anymore that is is because when the train travels around the corner it will hit certain parts of the platform edge.

  5. I understand that some stations are on curves, creating some difficulties. However, the elevation difference between the trains and platforms doesn’t have to do with the curve, it has to do with poor planning and an unwillingness to make (admittedly expensive) retrofits.
    — dml

  6. Please remove my last comment as you have not posted my full comment and have twisted my works to fit your thoughts. I was very critical off your stance, but people are allowed to have a diffrence of mind, and ask a Londoner who knows the whole tube system well, I would think that I would have a far better sense that you would.

Comments are closed.