London’s Tube Service Improves Access for Invisible Illness Sufferers

Even as disability access becomes an increasing priority for infrastructure planners, it can be difficult to navigate buses, trains and underground transport for those who rely on wheelchairs, have limited or complete sight loss or experience conditions that may prevent so-called “able-bodied” mobility.

Usually, travelers take notice that some people may need to be accommodated and will try their best to provide support — offering their seat, for instance.

But what about conditions like MS and chronic fatigue that can leave individuals physically weak but with little outward signs of a problem?

These conditions aren’t obvious to the naked eye, and as a result, many sufferers report experiencing hostility when they ask to be accommodated. Now Transport for London, or TfL is testing a new badge that will help alert fellow passengers.

“From 12 September 2016, Transport for London (TfL) will begin trialing “please offer me a seat” blue badges to help passengers who need a seat on public transport, but often have difficulty getting one,” the TfL said in a press release.

The badges use a format similar to the blue and white “Baby on Board” badges already available to passengers on the underground train system. The strategy has been somewhat successful, with over 310,000 badges issued per year.

Public response has also been favorable. Parents using the scheme report that their fellow passengers have been prompted into being more considerate.

Similarly, the badge in this new mobility access scheme will be paired with a card that reads: “Please offer me a seat. Remember not all disabilities and conditions are visible.”

“We appreciate that asking for a seat on public transport can sometimes be difficult, particularly for customers who have hidden disabilities or conditions. That is why we are launching this trial,” Mike Brown, London’s Transport Commissioner, explained. “If it is successful we will work closely with older and disabled people’s organizations to develop the final product. I hope that Londoners help make the trial a success and offer their seat to someone with one of the badges or cards who may be in need.”

The initiative will initially recruit one thousand passengers, and —  if all goes well — it could be expanded for more general use later this year.

Generally, reception for this move has been positive, and groups have praised the TfL for attempting to address the challenges that mobility-limited passengers might face.

However some critics, while acknowledging that the initiative could be helpful, feel that the badges are simply a band-aid and fail to tackle the root of the issue.

Writing for the Independent, James Moore explains, ”What troubles me, however, is that our society has to resort to using sticking plasters like this in the first place, to cover the open wound of the way people with disabilities are treated in everyday life.” 

Moore cites public concerns that the badges could potentially pose a security risk for disabled passengers who may be seen as easy targets for opportunistic thieves. Of even greater concern, however, is that this initiative may lead the TfL to feel that its work is done and that no further accommodation for non-able-bodied people is necessary.

Disability groups maintain that, despite some access initiatives and concerted efforts by transport staff, many areas in the London Underground are no-go zones for those with limited mobility or special access needs. While accommodation for those needs may be possible, it isn’t practical for the passenger who simply wants to go from one area to another as quickly as possible.

Clearly, this project isn’t without its issues. At the same time, however, the TfL initiative may at least help to give passengers requiring accommodation a more pleasant journey — a worthy goal — while still acknowledging that further integration and accessibility efforts are needed.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

90 comments

Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

th

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

Jubilee Line and especially London bridge Station are excellent and step free

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Clare O
Clare O'Bearaabout a month ago

The Tube was originally built as a way of getting working people to work and home. They were not expected to be disabled people.

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JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Parisabout a month ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Roslyn McBride
Roslyn M2 years ago

Glad improvements have been made, travelling on the London "tube" takes some practice & nerve at first until you get used to it.

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Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

This is good news, though sadly since the glory days of 'London 2012', disability access & attitudes to disability still have a long, long way to go. Remember 'invisible illnesses' also means mental health, I had to step off a bus recently as the overcrowding & heat was playing up my anxiety disorder. Public transport decision makers need to acknowledge & address this.

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