What I want for Christmas
Anna is a disability justice activist and scholar. She tells us what's at the top of her accessibility wish list this Christmas.
To echo the dulcet tones of Mariah Carey that herald the Christmas season every year, “I don’t want a lot for Christmas.”
But as an American disability justice activist who just moved across the pond to London, there are just a few things I need. They all relate to the disappointing state of disability access in this enthralling city.
In an attempt to make it easier for Santa, the gods, or whatever fickle entity holds the responsibility of determining the state of disability access in this place (as no one seems to be owning up to the task), I’ve even compiled a Christmas list. And luckily enough for all of us, I’ve been a very good girl this year. (Mostly.) So perhaps we can make this the year that the disability community wakes up to more than just the same old coal in our stockings, hmm?
A London Disability Christmas List
1. Reliable curb-cuts
My wheelchair battery and I are tired of backtracking up and down London city blocks when we reach a street crossing and find no one bothered to put in a ramp. (I’m particularly looking at you, Soho.) This is below the bare minimum.
2. Access to shops and restaurants
For one of the world’s leading cosmopolitan cities, there sure do seem to be a lot of people who can’t figure out how to open up Amazon and buy a £50 moveable ramp to help me surmount a 5-10 cm step at the door to their place of business. It’s hard to support my local businesses when I can’t enter the front door of more than half of them.
3. An end to inaccessible “colourful crossings”
The newest trend in bad urban planning seems to be flashy murals painted on the asphalt at some crosswalks throughout the city. While seemingly harmless fun, many of these installations prevent blind residents and their guide dogs from being able to navigate the streets they call home.
4. Audio descriptions and captioning in the arts
One of my favourite things about London so far are the endless opportunities to engage with the arts, whether through theatre, poetry, music, painting, sculpture, or otherwise. But these activities lose their lustre when my blind and Deaf friends can’t participate because the venue didn’t want to spend the time including competent audio descriptions or captioning.
5. More accessible public transportation
Coming from Washington, D.C., where all metro stops are step-free, and buses are highly accessible, London’s public transport system is one struggle after another. As a wheelchair user, I can access only a quarter of tube stations, relegating me to much more time-consuming bus travel most of the time. And with only one spot for wheelchair-users which is often already taken up by prams and pushchairs, London buses are an access nightmare.
Even when things go smoothly and I can board a bus, I often struggle to reach and press the wheelchair “stop” buttons when they even work. And even when they do, drivers often forget to put down the ramp, and I have to yell to them from the back of the bus to get off.
We need to make accessibility a priority
The list could go on — but let’s start by accomplishing the bare minimum that’s supposed to be guaranteed by the Equality Act.
Before moving to London, I was a City Commissioner in Washington, D.C., where I frequently worked on urban planning and access issues. D.C. is one of the world’s leaders in urban accessibility. There’s no reason other places shouldn’t be following suit. For a city that found the money and creativity to make massive, rapid infrastructure changes during the pandemic, London could resolve many of its access issues if it made them a priority.
So for the love of all things merry and bright — it’s 2021, and we must do so much better for London’s disabled residents. Merry Christmas.