The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the UK, and London in particular has been transformed in the wake of coronavirus. Way ahead of other UK cities in terms of public transport infrastructure, the capital has long offered disabled Londoners many travel options, and schemes such as Travel Mentoring and Turn Up and Go help to further enable independent travel. But March 2020 brought a unique situation, and suddenly Transport for London were asking Londoners to avoid travelling on the network. Many workplaces switched to home working, and Londoners adjusted to spending most of their time in their homes.
As restrictions are gradually eased, offices are beginning to reopen, and many people are being asked return to them. But we are emerging into a different London. And, for blind and partially sighted people, this is a world in which the landscape and outdoor infrastructure – usually relied upon for learning and remembering routes – has been transformed in ways that are at best confusing and worst inaccessible. Combining this with an unavoidable reduction in services means that the journey into London’s ‘new normal’ is more difficult for blind and partially sighted Londoners.
To try and combat this, London Vision brought together some of the key players in the capital – Transport for London, TaxiCard and Transport for All, plus Dean Apps from Barking Sensory Team – to discuss the changes. Held for the first time over Zoom, we had over 30 participants on the call, from all parts of the London.
Dean Apps opened the session and provided tips and advice for getting back out onto public transport. He stressed the crucial importance of using canes for blind and partially sighted people during this time. In normal circumstances, many people with vision impairment may be able to get around without using a mobility or symbol cane, but canes also to alert other people to the user’s sight loss. This helps other people give you the space you need for social distancing while out and about.
Brian Gordon, Travel Mentor Team Leader for Transport London updated the attendees about the changes to the Travel Mentoring scheme. Currently, mentoring is still happening, but there is much less face to face mentoring than usual. They do hope to bring back more face to face mentoring as restrictions continue to be eased. Brian did encourage people to continue to get in touch with the Travel Mentoring team to keep updated on and take advantage of the service.
City Fleet’s representative, Alan McDonald, filled attendees in on how TaxiCard has been working during lockdown, and the small changes in how it can be used – including for picking up shopping. Taxicard are also allowing friends and family to travel on your behalf to pick up essential items. All drivers wear full PPE and the vehicles are cleaned between every trip so passengers can be confident about travelling with the service. If you want to know more about the updates, visit this page.
Transport for London’s Georgia Heathman was on hand to give participants a preview of the new TfL Go app – which was designed with accessibility features in mind. It can be used in the same way as the online Journey Planner, and a key feature is the step free map – allowing passengers who use wheelchairs to check the accessibility of their proposed routes in advance. The app is currently only available on iPhone, but TfL are keen to gather any and all feedback on it to continue to improve it. Want to know where you can download it? Visit this page.
Yragael Drouet from Transport for All was on hand to give attendees an overview of the work of his organisation – and how they can help disabled Londoners regain some their travelling confidence. They operate an accessible transport advice line and they can help you plan your journey around London, as well as support you if things go wrong. You can find more information on their website here.