Wheelchair Accessible Train Travel in the UK
As a disabled individual, you undoubtedly know that you face extra challenges when travelling. Even in the UK, which is one of the most accessible countries for travel as a disabled person, there is still a long way to make it a comfortable and empowering experience.
In the UK, we’re lucky to live in one of the most accessible countries for travellers in the world. However, even in a country like the UK, challenges remain. In 2019, it’s estimated that disabled adults made 26% fewer trips than those without a disability. The gap is even more significant for the elderly aged 65+.
Not only do disabled persons face challenges when it comes to a lack of accessible equipment and infrastructure, but also information and personal aid (when required).
Why travel is important
If it’s so much harder to travel as a disabled person, why bother with it at all?
Well, first of all, travel is an incredible opportunity to take a break and get out of your typical routine. If you plan ahead, it’s a chance to push aside your day-to-day worries and focus on enjoying the moment. Not only can it be a delightful experience, but it can also refresh you to take on the daily grind with renewed vigour.
Secondly, travel can be a fantastic way to challenge yourself and exercise a greater degree of independence. This is especially true if you make arrangements for accessible transport services and accommodations.
How accessible is train travel in the UK?
The Equality Act of 2010 requires all railway stations to take reasonable steps to ensure non-discrimination against disabled people. Operators must comply with a disabled people’s protection policy (DPPP) established by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to obtain their license.
According to the NTS, up to 92% of trains were accessible by December 2019.
Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR) have applied to all new stations that came into operation since 1998. Amongst others, these layout rules for:
- providing access for wheelchair users
- the size and location of handrails, handholds, and control devices
- providing passenger information systems and other equipment
- Acceptable gaps between train platforms and the trains themselves
These are vital for individuals who use wheelchairs to manoeuvre safely and efficiently.
Railways also have measures in place to be more accessible for sensory-impaired users. This includes door warning systems for the visually and audibly impaired.
There are many different train operators in the UK, and each may have variations in their accessibility policies. However, most can accommodate wheelchairs that are 70cm in width and 120cm in length. A small minority of operators only support wheelchairs up to 67cm in width.
On the National Rail Enquiries website, you can find more information and even video guides on their accessibility measures.
Travellers that hold a Disabled Persons Railcard can enjoy a discount of up to 33% of their ticket fare (for adults). And, if another adult is accompanying you, they may be eligible for the same discount.
Today, you can even book in-person assistance via the Disabled Persons Railcard website. This will ensure that you receive the necessary aid, regardless of which operator you end up travelling with. This is useful because you don’t have to check and contact each operator on your journey.
In-person railway assistance usually involves assisting you in embarking and disembarking the train, handling luggage, and helping you to your point of transfer.
In an NTS study, 80% of disabled respondents indicated that they were satisfied with the level of accessibility on UK trains.
Still, there might be some difficulty in liaising with multiple operators, mainly if there are delays or last-minute itinerary changes. However, several apps have emerged to help persons deal with these issues, such as Transreport and Scotrail.
What are the most Wheelchair-friendly destinations in the UK?
Especially by international standards, most major cities in the UK are considered relatively wheelchair-friendly today.
In London, for example, nearly all taxis, buses, and tourist attractions, such as the London Eye, today provide wheelchair ramps. Many cities have even started to eliminate cobblestone sidewalks which are uncomfortable to ride on with a wheelchair. It’s also fairly common for hotels and other accommodations to reserve up to 5% of their rooms for disabled guests.
For this reason, the UK is often regarded as one of the top 5 countries for disabled travellers.
That being said, here are several popular travel destinations in the UK for travellers who use wheelchairs:
- Wakehurst Royal Botanical Gardens Kew – Haywards Heath, Sussex: Aside from wheelchair-friendly facilities, Wakehurst even offers all-terrain wheelchairs for public use. This allows wheelchair users to enjoy and explore every inch of the sprawling terrain.
- Ability – Shetland, Scotland: An island might not be the first destination that comes to mind when talking about wheelchair accessibility. However, you won’t miss out on any activities thanks to being supplied with MT Push wheelchairs and Mountain Trike lever-drive wheelchairs.
- Bodnant Garden National Trust – Conway, Wales: These magnificent gardens feature passable terrain and wheelchair-friendly walkways. However, they also offer various push and all-terrain wheelchairs for use.
- Brogdale Collections – Faversham, Kent: This charity in Kent provides public access to the National Fruit Collection, perfect for a fun and delicious fruit-picking adventure.
- Kenilworth Castle English Heritage – Coventry, Warwickshire: Despite being a castle with a 900-year history, this attraction features modern accessibility features for wheelchair users. All-terrain wheelchairs can also be provided to more easily explore every nook of this sprawling keep and its surroundings.
Also, see our list of 5 accessible attractions & cities in England
Unfortunately, attractions typically only provide a handful of wheelchairs for public use. That means you may be left wanting if you happen to visit on the same day as others that need them.
A list of all wheelchair accessible attractions in the UK would be enormous. However, here are some of the most famous wheelchair accessible attractions in London:
- British Museum
- National Gallery
- Tower Bridge
- Buckingham Palace
- Madame Tussauds
- ZSL London Zoo
- The Shard
If you’re looking for an accessible room in London, have a look at our list of 10 Wheelchair Accessible Hotels in London.
Why should you hire a wheelchair or mobility scooter for your travels?
Nothing can derail your travel plans more than a lack of accessibility features. While most of the UK is relatively accessible for disabled users, it’s better to come prepared for anything.
There are also many other reasons why you might want to rent mobility equipment for your travels:
- Your home mobility equipment is not suitable for travel. For example, your wheelchair may be too heavy or bulky to carry and store easily.
- Your home mobility equipment might not be the correct dimensions to use with your transportation mode.
- You may be planning to move around a lot, in which case motorised equipment will be more suitable. It can be extremely tiring to self-propel your wheelchair or have someone else push you for an entire day of travelling, particularly if you’re going somewhere with challenging terrain.
- You may lack specific equipment that you’ll need, such as a ramp or hoist. If you already have your home set up for wheelchair accessibility, it’s more economical to rent than to purchase items you won’t use any time soon.
- You may be carrying heavy luggage (or tonnes of souvenirs!), in which case you need mobility equipment that makes handling items easier.
In short, renting the right equipment can make your travels a much more comfortable and stress-free experience. It can help ensure you’re prepared for any eventuality without having to buy new equipment you don’t need at home. See top 5 mobility aids to rent for your next holiday.
What’s more, we’ve designed our service to be as convenient as possible. That’s why our moto is: Strive Mobility – The simple way to rent mobility equipment online. All you have to do is search for the ideal mobility equipment on our website and place your order. We’ll package and ship it straight to your location in time for your departure.
Once you return from your travels, you can simply box it back up and notify us to collect it. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Compared with many other parts of the world, we’re fortunate to live in a country that prioritises the inclusion of disabled persons. From our transportation to one-off attractions to whole destinations – wheelchair travel is not only possible but can be a highly empowering and enjoyable experience.
That being said, you should still do your due diligence and ensure that you have the right mobility equipment. That will allow you to enjoy your travels worry-free as well as experience every bit of what your destination(s) have to offer!
Please note, this information was gathered through online research, including blogger reviews and the attraction’s websites, but we haven’t physically visited each venue
Written on behalf of Strive Mobility