Friday, 16 September 2011

If London Can Do It...

Unstoppable Martyn Sibley

I recently attended a very informative webinar on independent living for people with disabilities by Martyn Sibley. As someone with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Martyn knows his subject matter well.

From his website ( " I am a regular guy who happens to have a disability called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). This means I cannot walk, lift anything heavier than a book or shower myself."

However, Martyn's disabilities have not stopped him from getting his Master's, working full-time, advocating for for people with disabilities with a number of organizations, living on his own, traveling around the world, and opening his own business. Thinking about what he must do in a day makes me feel exhausted!

Transportation Accessibility in London: Putting Canada to Shame

Martyn is currently living in London, England. I was fascinated by his description of the transportation options available to people with disabilities in London. It seems that most of the cabs, buses and trains, are outfitted with an extendable ramp! Unheard of! People in wheelchairs being able to access *all* the buses, cabs, and trains? An accessibility dream!

[caption id="attachment_994" align="alignright" width="300"] London taxi cab[/caption]

I said to Martyn that I'd never seen that level of transportation accessibility in Canadian cities (basing this on what I've seen in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Montreal). The first (and last) time I heard people talking about improving the  accessibility of Toronto's subway stations was when Toronto was trying to get the  2008 Summer Olympics (at that time there were still two stations that people in wheelchairs couldn't get into).

It really does beg the question: If London can have this level of transportation accessibility, why can't Canadian cities? I realize that money's tight and that it would require a mass re-outfitting of...everything.  I don't expect it to happen overnight, the same way that I don't expect any massive change involving people with disabilities to happen overnight.

But I think that the transportation systems in our cities need to start asking themselves the same difficult questions that non-accessible businesses should be asking: How much business are the they losing by remaining inaccessible? Can they really afford, in this day and age, *not* to improve accessibility?

Besides the fact that it's just the right thing to do, as I've talked about in other posts...

Step it up, Canada. London's making us look bad.

More About Martyn

Martyn's conducting his next disability webinar from New York City, where he'll be on vacation. Lucky guy...gets to live in a city that I love, gets to vacation in another city that I love...check out his website for details on the webinars and for more information on his work.


  1. The London Underground network is almost totally out of bounds to wheelchair users. Many commuter trains into London are of the old fashioned type and have limited accessibiliy. At peak times, trains and buses are so full it is near impossible for a wheelchair user to access them. I think Martyn might have given a slightly rose tinted view of the situation in London.

  2. He didn't talk about the Underground (and having used it myself, before the stroke, I can't imagine how they'd renovate so it could be).

    I remember the crowding on the public transportation in London from my visits, and can appreciate how it must impact accessibility. Martyn did mention that there's some attitudinal stuff going on too, particularly on the buses - that drivers have seemed put off about having to put the ramp down. Perhaps it's just as frustrating ultimately as not being able to access the transport in Canadian cities at all? But it was nice to hear about a city acknowledging that the accessibility problem does exist and trying to do something about it. (There are buses in some cities that have lowered steps, which is a start, but obviously not going to help someone in a wheelchair...)

    Thanks for the input. It's good to get a number of perspectives on this sort of thing.

  3. Hi both.

    Firstly thanks for writing such a complementary article. The Webinars are in their infancy and I worry if they are working as intended. Therefore feedback, good and bad is appreciated so I can improve them.

    Sarah is right to make the additional point of the tube. I will jot this down for next time. I would add that whilst there is still lots to do here, we are lucky compared to other parts of the world. I have many blog readers in Australia saying similar things to this. This article also shows the work even being done on the tubes

    My ethos is if one focuses on the negatives we wouldn't leave the house. I have used the bus in rush hour to work and survived. Inclusion will never be simple but by using the good provision and having resilience; getting from A to B is getting better slowly but surely, from my experience :-)

  4. I agree, Martyn. Inclusion's never an easy business, but getting out there and working with what's available is better than being housebound.

    I would imagine that the underground systems (which I never tried to use when I was in a wheelchair) can be made much more accessible through elevators. I will have to do some looking around the next time I am in Toronto to see how they have done it in the accessible stations.

    I found the webinar very informative, and I'm sure they will become even more so as you get a sense of what kind of information people are looking for and what kind of technology everyone's comfortable using.