My friend Beth and I recently went on a holiday to London. I have always been able to do the walking during trips myself (if I have enough resting breaks). In my post Coping With A New Diagnosis, I shared how badly my health has been lately. I got diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension which makes my blood pressure drop and my heart beat faster. The last two times I managed to do something, I ended up feeling extremely nauseous and dizzy for at least a few days.
I didn't want to cancel our trip that we both have been looking forward to for a long time. But what if I fainted in public? Or what if I threw up again and ended up crashing for the rest of our holiday? As much as I like to travel and escape from daily struggles, my chronic illness doesn't take a break. How was I going to find a way to go without causing extreme flare-ups?
My grandma has been using a walker for years now and it has been a huge help for her. Having the walker also gives her support when the pain starts to kick in. There is even a little basket where she puts stuff in that is too heavy for her to carry.
At that moment, especially when it is about 30°C/86°F outside, it seemed like the perfect way for me to enjoy my holiday and feel much safer. When I felt the dizziness coming up I could immediately sit down without having to look for an available seat in a busy area. When I felt like I was going to collapse, the walker gave me enough support till I got to the hotel to lay down.
Beth and I have the diagnosis myalgic encephalomyelitis in common but our bodies don't work the same way. I use a walker, Beth uses an electric wheelchair. You may need it one day but the other you may be fine without it or you need a different kind of support. And you know what, that is okay. An illness affects everyone in many different ways.
So how did we explore London with a chair and a walker?
For able bodied people the tube (subway system) is by far the easiest way to get around. However, not very much of the tube is accessible. Beth has been on previous trips to London and used the Jubilee line. Which is supposed to be the most accessible line. It was an anxious experience where she had to rely on her mum or the kindness from strangers. So this was not ideal.
What about buses?
Most buses should be accessible. Although, Beth had a not so pleasant experience in the past where the bus drove off without her. While her friend was inside of the bus paying and asking to put the ramp out! Plus, bus routes can be pretty confusing for tourists.
Bus and boat-tours for tourists were great with regarding accessibility. We took the Original Tour. The staff was really patient and immediately pulled the ramp out. There is room for you to leave your mobility aid without it being in the way of other people. They even offered me help to get the walker on and off the bus/boat. You can hop on and hop off wherever you want to take a look at an attraction you are interested in. Or you can just sit down, have a snack and learn more about London's must-sees while you drive past them.
We decided that we would pay for taxis to get around the city. We were both really impressed with the black cabs. They are all wheelchair accessible and the cabbies (drivers) were always willing to help Beth up the ramp and fold up my walker and put it in the front of the car.
Although the cabs can be expensive we'd definitely recommend using them if you go to London because it saves a lot of energy. You don't get stressed, you don't need to rush and all the drivers we had were incredibly friendly. You don't have to walk far to a bus stop. Taxis get there immediately and drop you off right where you want to go. Which is a huge plus if you are like me and need to go lay down as soon as possible when you start to feel dizzy.
You can even order them on an app called My Taxi. We recommend making a reservation for a cab during busy times. Usually the staff of your hotel will gladly call them for you. Don't look for other taxi driving companies in London. You may think the black cabs will be the most expensive as they are so iconic but I was surprised by how affordable their fees are compared to others.
Shops and restaurants
Some buildings were accessible, others weren't. We went to Starbucks for breakfast and there was a step to get in. Beth is able to get up from her wheelchair and help lift it in if needed. But not everyone can.
Oxford Street can be overwhelming for healthy people, let alone when you have a chronic illness and need to use mobility aids. We decided to go to The Westfield shopping centre instead. The centre is huge, airconditioned and we could even walk/roll next to each other unlike outside areas. Even the cinema inside of the mall had great accessibility.
But we noticed so many unnecessary steps during our trip. For example a Hollister store right in the mall had many steps at the entrance. It will prevent some people from being able to get in at all, and it means that the shops/cafes etc are losing the custom of disabled consumers.
The theatres we went to were very accessible. The staff was always ready to help and let us know what and when they were coming. They never let us waiting without giving any information. We even got to see some backstage areas through the access entrance at School of Rock. Plus due to the fact Beth is a wheelchair user we even got a discount on the tickets.
Keep in mind this is about our personal experience as tourists. This is what worked best for us. We understand not everyone may have the ability to pay for taxis. Or maybe you experienced things differently during your trip? If you did, please let us know. We love to hear from you.
I didn't need my walker the entire time. I listened to my body and did whatever was right in that moment. Having our mobility aids didn't mean we could do as much as an abled-bodied person. We made sure to plan in low energy activities like going to the theatre and cinema.
We would go lay down in the hotel and sleep in to get enough rest. Even with so much preparing we were both extremely exhausted when we got home but it was totally worth it.
One thing that we do find in London (and many other places) is that when you use mobility aids you often bring out the best in people. People would open doors for us if they saw us struggling, help guide Beth on ramps, help lift her wheelchair,... The majority of Londoners are willing to help.
Overall the accessibility for wheelchair users in London is good, but could be far better. Don’t let accessibility issues put you off going to London though. It’s a wonderful, international city and we've never been anywhere else like it. You won't find that true London spirit elsewhere.
Thank you Beth for co-writing this artcile with me. Make sure to check out her YouTube channel and send her some love!