Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Feel Like Going To London? It's Getting Accessible!!

With the next Summer Olympics (and Paralympics) coming to London in 2012, the city is taking increasing measures to make the city more accessible to people with disabilities. The great thing about this is that these access improvements will extend well beyond event venues, so in the end they’ll ultimately benefit all visitors. In fact, many access upgrades are already in place, so if you’ve ever thought about hopping across the Big Pond, now may be just the time to explore that option.
Good access starts with comprehensive rules and regulations; although the UK has had a number of access laws on the books for many years, many have been beefed up in recent times. For example, the Disability Discrimination Act was strengthened in 2004 to include even the smallest businesses. As a result, today many more UK attractions are now truly wheelchair-accessible. Additionally, all London black cabs and public buses are now required to be wheelchair-accessible. Finally, the newly adopted European Union Passengers with Reduced Mobility (EU PRM) regulations went into full effect on July 26, 2008. These regulations prohibit EU-based airlines, travel agents, or tour operators from refusing service or denying boarding to passengers with disabilities. They also prohibit EU-based airlines from charging for the transport of wheelchairs or service animals. They also require all EU airports to provide wheelchair assistance throughout the terminal.
Of course there’s always room for improvement, and the major push for accessibility upgrades for the upcoming Games focuses on public transportation. According to Sebastian Coe, Chair of the 2012 Organising Committee, “There are a wide range of people who have accessibility needs, and we want to make travelling for all of them better and easier, not only for the period of the Games, but also to leave a lasting legacy.”
To that end, plans are in the works to add more lifts at Tube stations. Transport for London reports that today 48 Tube stations have lifts, compared with 38 in 2002. Wide-aisle ticket gates and lowered counters at ticket offices are also being introduced throughout the system.
Additionally, plans are being considered to develop an interactive journey planner that would highlight the most accessible parts of the transportation network, so passengers with disabilities can plan their travels more efficiently.

The availability of access information is also a big concern of Olympic planners. To that end, Visit London has already jumped on the bandwagon with an impressive website about access in London. This new resource contains detailed access information on public transportation, hotels, theaters, and attractions throughout the city.
The attractions section includes a narrative description of the access features of each attraction plus a link to the attraction’s website, while the theater section features access maps to some of London’s major theaters. Information about accessible public transportation and hotels is also included. All in all, it’s a very useful and concise resource—one that you can use right now to plan your next trip to London.

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