Why our response to London’s car-free day is about more than just inaccessible transport

Angela Matthews, Business Disability Forum

Angela Matthews

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Research

For those who have not been following our transport-related activity during the last week, we spoke out about how Sadiq Khan’s announcement of a car-free day in London has given no visible consideration to its impact on disabled people.

The announcement of a day to “promote walking, cycling, and use of public transport” is striking since recent campaigns have highlighted the frequent obstructions on pavements disabled people experience, and the inaccessibility of public transport disabled people experience every day. This also comes shortly after Department for Transport’s launch of the Inclusive Transport Strategy and their revision of the Blue Badge Scheme, which has been updated to be more inclusive to people with disabilities and conditions which are less immediately visible to others.

But, not only are many disabled people prevented from having clear, accessible streets to navigate or from using transport that is reliably accessible on a car-free day, they are also prevented from taking part in a public awareness campaign that is about London’s air pollution – and I’m quite sure even some disabled people are concerned about our environment.

This brings us to another fundamental cause for concern that emerges from this debate: the exclusion of disabled people from public social action campaigns. Disabled people’s representation in environmental activism is not a new issue. ‘Green’ movements have increasingly acknowledged the shift that is needed in making this global campaign accessible to everyone. Environmental activist groups and organisations have acknowledged what we would have previously called the “business case” for making their campaigns accessible to disabled people; that is, simply, if they make their campaigns accessible, millions more people can be involved, meaning the bigger and more likely their campaign is to succeed.

This ‘no brainer’ approach only skims the surface. There is a more critical issue at root here. If social action is not open (that is, accessible) to every person in our society, it is not inclusive, democratic, or representative. There is no equal citizenship – for any of us – until everyone is enabled to take part. For a Government in a country which is said by others to excel in human rights and which is hailed for how far we have come in terms of disability inclusion, we have got this car-free day radically wrong.

Denying participation by inaccessibility to even one person, let alone a whole ‘group’ of people, is the active silencing of voices. And we need to consider, is this really who the UK want to be?

Read information about our accessible transport survey, open until 10 July 2019

Further thoughts from Business Disability Forum on inclusive transport:

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