A letter to the Department for Transport

The increase in walking and cycling infrastructure and schemes to promote active travel are great, but here at Wheels for Wellbeing we have concerns that local authorities aren’t always aware of the additional accessibility requirements of Disabled people. We need enough space on the streets and more financial support so that we can all walk, wheel and cycle. That’s why we’ve written to Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, to ask for some help from the Department for Transport:

Dear Secretary of State,

I write following the publication of the Gear Change vision document and the publication of LTN 01/20, both of which we applaud for not only acknowledging the fact that Disabled people cycle, but also for providing guidance as to how to meet our infrastructure needs and those of the non-standard cycles many of us ride. We also welcome the significant investment in active travel and emergency measures taken to respond to Covid-19 and the new obesity strategy.

However, as the Director of a charity that represents Disabled people who cycle in the UK, I wish to share with you our real fears that despite the aforementioned publications and measures taken, without some urgent targeted actions Disabled people will not benefit (and may in fact be negatively affected) by these initiatives.

As you will no doubt know, Disabled people have been disproportionately represented in the Covid-19 death figures. For example, Disabled women have been 11 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than non-Disabled women according to ONS figures. Furthermore, lockdown has had a particularly detrimental impact on Disabled people, who are more likely to have been self-isolating/shielding, had fewer opportunities to exercise, and experienced greater social isolation. Disabled people want and need to walk, wheel and cycle in order to both return to a healthy weight and regain/improve our fitness in order to have the best chance of beating Covid-19, should we catch it.

We were pleased to see that in your letter to local authorities, you made clear to them that they must deliver their emergency walking and cycling schemes within the Equality Act 2010. However, to our knowledge, authorities have not been provided with detailed guidance on how to do this. Therefore, as pop-up walking and cycling infrastructure is being installed we find that major accessibility blunders are being committed, resulting in some Disabled people being further excluded.

Our recently published 2019/20 survey report on the Experiences of Disabled Cyclists confirms persistent structural and attitudinal barriers limiting the ability of large numbers of Disabled people accessing cycling (chiefly: inaccessible cycling infrastructure, the prohibitive cost of adaptive cycles and the lack of recognition of the fact Disabled people cycle).

Disabled people must be supported in order to benefit from improved walking, wheeling and cycling environments. They need to be provided with safe and accessible space that allows them to physically distance around their local communities. In light of this, we are calling upon your Department to:

  •  Urgently publish a single guide for local authorities on how to implement fully-accessible emergency walking, wheeling and cycling schemes (covering the complex issues that they need to balance and providing examples of good practice for dealing with access to and from dwellings, the public realm, kerbside and carriageway environments, across impairment groups). Organisations of Disabled people with expertise in accessible mobility, including walking, wheeling and cycling (ourselves included) will be more than happy to help. This will save authorities across England either from getting it badly wrong or from having to invest time and funds in identifying the right experts and drawing up their own guidance.
  • Conclude DfT’s exploration of the possibility of officially recognising cycles as mobility aids (as promised in the Inclusive Transport Strategy).
  • Push for the expansion of subsidies for cycling so that they reach the majority of Disabled people (not just those in work). This could be through modifications to the Motability scheme, ensuring that cycle loan, cycle hire and cycle on prescription schemes are accessible to all.
  • In order for those Disabled people who need to be dropped off/picked up from outside their home/destination, we also would like to encourage your Department to devise a national scheme so taxi drivers can be exempted from traffic free zones when carrying a Disabled or elderly passenger.

I hope these very targeted initiatives will receive your attention as we strongly believe that they have the potential to make significant differences to the lives of Disabled people, and in turn will have beneficial impacts on NHS and Social Care budgets in the longer term.

Kind regards,

Isabelle Clement
Wheels for Wellbeing

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