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Where in the UK has the best wheelchair access?

Wheelchair accessibility isn’t a checklist – it’s a mindset. It’s simply not enough to add raised platforms at train stations, disabled-friendly toilet facilities at work and ramps to public buildings. While these are good places to start, we need to start reconsidering how we approach development.

The UK is home to around 1.2 million wheelchair users, yet we’re falling short of the necessary changes needed to build a fully inclusive society.

What are the most accessible towns and cities in the UK?

Everywhere in the UK approaches accessibility entirely different – employers, shops, local authorities and schools all have responsibilities under the Equality Act, but that doesn’t mean everyone meets them in the same way.

It’s hard to judge where in the UK is most accessible. Motability can tell you the top wheelchair and scooter friendly towns in the UK – Exeter, Chester, St Albans, Harrogate, St Andrews, Llangollen and Derry all come out top, but the criteria is by and large based on accessible tourist attractions, rather than how accessible different aspects of day-to-day life can be.

Building accessible homes

A government housing survey published in 2016 found that just 7% of homes in England were fitted with the features needed to be wheelchair accessible.

To allow for ease of access in the home, housing must be designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind. To allow for wheelchair access, a home should include an entrance with a flush threshold, wide enough doorsets and circulation space for the wheelchair to manoeuvre, and an entrance level WC.

Outside London, only 23% of homes due to be built by 2030” are planning to provide these basic features. In London however, the situation is not as bleak. Since 2004, the Greater London Authority had required all new homes to meet access standards, recognising that to not do so would “lead to discrimination and social exclusion”.

Living in a home that doesn’t meet a disabled person’s accessibility requirements is more than just an inconvenience – it’s detrimental to that person’s mental health, may pose a health and safety risk, and can hold that person back in the workplace. According to research published by social housing provider Habinteg and Papworth Trust, “disabled people living in inaccessible homes are four times more likely to be unemployed”.

London is home to over 140,000 wheelchair users – that’s more wheelchair users than anywhere else in the country – so it makes sense that building accessible homes has been marked as a priority. But living in London comes with a hefty price tag and it’s high time the rest of the UK catches up and meets their accessible housing standards.

How to search for wheelchair accessible housing

Finding a home to rent or buy can be difficult when you also have to consider accessibility, but the good news is that you can search for your next home from the comfort of your own sofa. Websites like Rightmove, Prime Location and Zoopla help you sieve through the seemingly endless listings to find the right property for you.

Most property listing sites are now including a keyword search in the filters so that you can easily discover listings for homes that mention accessibility. Don’t lose hope if you don’t find immediate success – you may have to try a few keywords before you get any hits, e.g. “wheelchair access” or “accessibility”.

Wheelchair accessibility when travelling

But what happens when you find the perfect house for your needs and it’s in a city infamous for being inaccessible to wheelchair users? Where’s the best place to live if you use a wheelchair – and which city is the worst? It’s just not a competition you’d like to be known for winning.

There’s plenty of ways a city can improve their accessibility. Lowered pavements, ramps to shop doors, raised platforms and barrier free routes at train stations are but a few. But the biggest challenge most wheelchair users face, in towns and cities alike, is access to public transport.

Taxi services are often one of the most practical methods of public transport for wheelchair users thanks to overcrowding on trains and terrible attitudes to making space for wheelchair users on buses. A recent analysis of government statistics saw Liverpool crowned the most accessible city in this regard, with 1,426 accessible taxis available to a wheelchair user population of 8,527 – that’s an estimate of one wheelchair accessible taxi to every six wheelchair users. Wakefield, on the other hand, is the least accessible with an estimate of only one wheelchair accessible taxi available to every 205 users – and there’s a huge range in between.

While taxis may be the better option for wheelchair users, they’re certainly not the cheapest. While rail and bus companies fail to provide a reliable, fully accessible service, wheelchair users are left without a viable alternative for public transport.

Choosing a WAV or adaptations

Efforts are being made to improve public transport for disabled people, but there’s still a long way to go. The reality for many wheelchair users is that travelling by public transport can be tiring, stressful and emotionally distressing.

Wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) or vehicle conversions are both reliable alternatives to public transport. Accessible vehicle adaptations can include driving and steering aids, pedal extensions, hand controls and rotating car seats to name a few. Taking your wheelchair or scooter with you shouldn’t be a problem. Cartwright Mobility offer a range of hoists that can be easily fitted for a hassle-free way of moving and storing your wheelchair.

WAVs are ideal if you are transporting any specialist equipment, or for those who cannot comfortably transfer from a wheelchair to a car seat. For more on how to choose between a WAV or a vehicle conversion, please visit our blog.

What are your experiences around the UK?

With a lack of far ranging data, we’re left to rely on personal experiences of accessibility around the UK. Is there anywhere that you think is lagging behind? Or does your hometown or city excel when it comes to accessibility? We’re keen to know – chime in below this blog on our Facebook page if you’ve got any experiences to share.

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