On 12th October 2018 we headed on the train from Manchester to London as a family for the National Muscular Dystrophy UK Conference, where I was appearing on a panel of incredible individuals – Lucy Watts MBE and Jamie Hale, to encourage others to (as the panel discussion title implies) – “Live the Life You Want.” Look out for a future blog on the MDUKConf18
After a long day speaking and mingling, we decided to make the most of our free evening before heading back home to a dreary Bolton, Manchester the following morning. Although blogging and guest speaking ventures have brought me to London 3 times this year alone, due to coming specifically for important discussions and “business,” sadly we never managed to make time to squeeze in some fun. So this was certainly a welcome change!
We were staying at the Hilton Hotel in More Place London, a quaint and well sculptured area, filled with artistic visuals with large futuristic builds that are very Instagram worthy. We explored More Place, being typical British tourists in our own country but it was just so beautiful, not taking photographic memories would of been a crime! More Place is packed with health food eateries and cocktail bars. We also came across a little gift shop before we went along to take in the breathtaking Tower Bridge but sadly it was closed at that time. So off we went and joined the medium sized queue that was infront of the tiny glass lift, tucked away behind tall stone walls. The lift was just big enough to fit my bulky powerchair, partner and eldest daughter (youngest was at Nanas for this trip), perhaps 1 other person at a squeeze.
Once at the top we stuck to the right hand side of the bridge, gawping at the beautiful image of the river thames – right infront of us, where HMS Belfast sat ankored in all its historical glory. Knowing ahead of time that although the historic ship was open to tourists, it however wasn’t made accessible so my partner had taken Abbie to explore it earlier in the day whilst I was busy mingling in the conference hall back at the hotel. According to my partner and daughter, the ship is full of ladders that accessible all different areas and displays for tourists to learn of its history, it also had an erie presence about it – particularly of what used to be the operating roomBack to our stroll across Tower Bridge, it was breathtaking just rolling slow, looking up at how magnificent the bridges design was in real life. I found weeding through the public – many foreigners, quite a challenge in my wheelchair. I specifically left all valuables at the hotel and carried anything vital on my person as pick pocketers are ripe wherever there’s alot of tourists. One hand firmly gripping Abbie’s, the other on my chair controller, nobody seems to move out the way without you creating a bit of a fuss. I’m not sure if it was cultural differences or communication issues, or perhaps moving out of courtesy for wheelchair users just isn’t the done thing in London. Whatever it is, it took a bit of getting used to. Everybody is out for themselves and if you don’t just power through the crowd, you simply won’t get to where you’re going.
Our time touring London that day let me to realise I developed some strategies so I thought it maybe helpful to share them, particularly for other disabled parents. Here’s what the game plan was and what worked for me as a wheelchair using Mama in London…
1. Hold on tight and keep moving!
Pretty self explanatory. Hold your littles hand tight and keep moving forward through the crowds. If you stop, hesitate or be overly polite you will get nowhere fast. Put your invisible blinkers and drive!
2. Safety tattoos & making sure your little knows what to do if they become separated from you
|Photo Credit: Google images|
Children get lost, even with the most hypervigilant, paranoid, helicopter Mummy in charge. All it takes is a moments distraction, and they vanish. As sadly the case of Jamie Bulger reminds us. Every parents worst nightmare is losing their child, especially in an unfamiliar place. This is why I decided to get a set of temporary child safety tattoos with my mobile number on them. Number bracelets can be taken off too easily and I didn’t think Abbie would wear a GPS style watch so this was the next best thing. In the event she somehow became lost, I made sure she knew who would be considered a trusted adult e.g police man or another Mum with children and to show them her tattoo. It’s so important, I can’t stress enough to talk to your child about what they should do if they become separated from you.
3. Handbags & Valuables
Pick pocketers are rife in many a city centre, more so in capitals like London. Many women powerchair users like myself, tend to put their handbag on our arm rest. Although this maybe more accessible to you, it leaves it equally accessible to thieves! While you’re busy navigating big crowds sight seeing with your family, they’ve taken the opportunity to dip their hand in and grab your mobile and/ wallet. Instead attach a shoulder strap and wear your bag across your body. Only take out with you what you actually need and leave other valuables in your hotel room safe.
4. Seek out Accessible Travel groups online
Going to unfamiliar places is stressful enough without being a wheelchair user. You don’t know where anything is like the back of your hand, unlike your home town nor can you just ‘wing it’ as not everywhere is accessible. It didn’t dawn on me until this particular trip that London’s not the best city in the UK for wheelchair access (despite what you may think!) Finding most of the tube lines not to be step-free was a big shock and not being familiar with the bus routes and schedule, I found we were relying on alot of taxis! Before going to a city like London, I’d definitely advise joining a FB group specifically for accessible travel in whichever city you’re going. Planning ahead is key to making your trip as stress-free access wise as possible.
– Here’s the Accessible Travel Groups I’ve particularly found most helpful –
Wheelchair Accessible Travel Sights
5. London Taxis
One form of public transport is better in London however, compared to Manchester at least and that’s the accessibility of taxis! Many Londoners rely on Uber (despite the horror stories) and book a taxi via the Uber App. When my friend, a Londoner told me that I could book a WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle) via the Uber App, I nearly fainted! This is how it should be Everywhere… Also for the first time I noticed outside train stations such as Euston, they have a dedicated ‘Restricted Mobility pick-up / drop-off bay’ right where you depart the station to flag a black cab.
During our trip the hotel we stayed at recommended the taxi company ComCab. As I have a large, tall powerchair, I actually hate going in taxis because I have to tilt and limbo under the roof while driving up the ramp to enter the vehicle. Imagine the heavens opening while you’re face up, it ain’t nice! I was amazed that the company ComCab actually have black cabs that are lower to the ground so the ramp isn’t as steep as you normally expect and the roof was higher. Infact, for the 1st time ever in my history of black cab use, I only had to tilt my head to the side to enter. No tilting, bashing my head off the cab roof or scary desent down a rickety ramps with these guys. I highly recommend them. You wouldn’t even notice from looking at them from the outside that they were any different from a standard black cab, but I guess only someone with a bulky powerchair would know…
6. Tour’s & Sightseeing
There is so much to do in London, so it’s not just access you may want to plan for. Cram in as much as humanly possible for your stay because you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t! This amazing accessibility guide for London’s most popular attractions is a great place to start when compiling your list of must-sees…. As this post focuses on families I highly recommend you consider visiting London Zoo, Discovery Children’s Story Centre or The Science Museum. All have excellent access ratings so you are guaranteed a fun filled family day out.
Did you know you can get on a tour bus in a wheelchair too? Oh yes, how times have finally caught up! Not only that but they have BSL (British Sign Language) led tours or if being on a tour bus is a bit too overwhelming – say for someone on the spectrum, there’s dedicated London Tour Taxis that have the ability to properly secure wheelchairs, or alternatively use one of their swivel seats if you have restricted mobility. There’s lots of accessible tours to choose from that meet the needs of a wide range of disabilities, simple visit www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/ 👈 and I’ve linked you right to their accessible tours section.
Other Helpful Resources
Accessibility review site for disabled people, written by disabled people for everything from hotels, venues, public places of interest, tourist attractions, public transport links and much more.
One of the UK’s Top leading Disability Bloggers – providing comprehensive reviews and advice on accessible travel.