London by Wheelchair
By W. Norman Cooper 1998

W. Norman Cooper has logged 18 trips to England. The following account was the fourth trip he made in a scooter due to Post Polio. As the ultimate Anglophile he generously offers to share his knowledge and invites e-mail questions from our readers.

Having returned from a two week trip to London, I thought I would send along some information that might be helpful to anyone planning to visit that city.

I took Virgin Atlantic and had many problems. Their representatives continually reminded me that British airlines are not required to take care of the handicapped as American owned airlines do. Disabled people should be advised to travel on an American owned airline if at all possible.

Hotels

I stayed at the Charing Cross Hotel ($180.00 per night) in the Strand between Villier and Craven Street.

The British have a different idea as to what they mean by wheelchair accessible. The Charing Cross Hotel gave me what they called a handicapped suite. However, the door to the suite was so narrow that I had to remove the arms from my scooter in order to enter. Also, it had a spring to automatically close the door, and I had a great deal of difficulty in driving my scooter into and out of the room and at the same time holding the door. The shower was in a tub, but since the tub was so high, it was very difficult to get in and out of it. The hotel did not provide a step to enter the tub or a bench in the tub. I spoke to the staff about this and they were very polite, but didn't know what I was talking about. The shower was not handheld.

However, the location of the Charing Cross Hotel was very good for getting around in London. It is in the same building as the Charing Cross Railway Station and there were always ample cabs in front of the station. But sometimes at busy hours I had to queue for them. At other times I merely hailed a cab that was passing by. The cabs that are wheelchair accessible have a handicapped logo in the lighted area on top of the cab.

Speaking of hotels, there is one hotel which specializes in service to the disabled. It is the Copthorne, located near the Royal Albert Hall. I did not stay there because it is not in the area where I wanted to be. Reservations can be made through the Holiday Care Service.

Transportation

One thing to keep in mind is that the railways will not handle scooters of any kind. However, they will handle wheelchairs. The new trains are level with the platform, but there is a space between the train and the platform so they insist that a train attendant be present when a person is boarding in a wheelchair. They do not allow scooters, because the small wheels might catch in this space. Also they consider that scooters take up too much space.

The London Underground is not accessible to either wheelchairs or scooters.

If one is in a scooter, it is important to remember that taxis cannot handle three wheelers. I took my four wheeler with me and found that most of the taxis were able to handle it. It is important to remember to use the Big Black Taxis, since they are taller and one can sit in his chair without bending over too much.

The sidewalks on most major streets in the area were cut for wheelchair accessibility. But if I went up any of the side streets, the sidewalks were uncut.

I found that all the museums were accessible. However the National Portrait Gallery was accessible only on the ground floor.

Attending a theater in London can be quite difficult, but I was able to attend six plays while there. It is important to go to the box office ahead of time and explain what accommodation is needed as far as seating is concerned. Many of the theaters are so old that it is impossible for them to accommodate the handicapped. Because of their age, they all have a fireman in attendance. I found these firemen very helpful in ascertaining whether the theater could handle my situation.

A trip to England is much easier if one has a companion. I made the trip alone and found that because of this there were many inconveniences that had to be overcome.

There are a few organizations which were very helpful when I contacted them before leaving for London. Here are their names and addresses.

RADAR (the Royal Association for Disability And Rehabilitation). Their address is 12 City Forum, 250 City Road, London, EC1V 8AF

I found Tripscope very helpful. I called them several times and they made some suggestions which made my trip easier for me. Tripscope, The Courtyard Evelyn Road, London W4 5JL.

Holiday Care Service, 2nd Floor, Imperial Buildings, Victoria Road, Horley, Surrey, England RH6 7PZ is helpful in making hotel reservations. They are the ones who suggested Charing Cross Hotel to me.

Another organization that is helpful is The Center on Environment for the Handicapped. It is at 126 Albert Street NW1. It has a useful range of publications.

The British Tourist Authority at 64 St. Jame’s Street, London SW1, is quite helpful and they have a booklet called, "Britain for the Disabled Visitor."

Artsline at 46 Broundray Road, London NW8 was very helpful in providing information on access to the arts and entertainment. The London theaters are not generally easily accessible for the handicapped. However, by doing considerable research, I was able to attend about six plays.

It is important to remember that Britain is on 220 volts and if one has an electric scooter or wheelchair it is necessary to carry a converter. It is important to get a big converter, because the small converters that handle razors will burn out, as I found out on a previous trip to England.

You may purchase the Philmore Heavy Duty Step-up & Stepd-own Transformer Model ST 750, from: LKG Industries, Rockford, IL 61109. It weighs 10 pounds and cost $44.95. It is not the easiest thing to carry around, but it worked without any problem. I found it at a local electronics store. The transformers carried by Radio Shack are not heavy duty enough.

To anybody who is making a trip, I say, "Happy traveling and have fun."

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