Angry disabled activists have launched a website to highlight the “shameful” failure to put access and inclusion at the heart of next year’s London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
They have focused their anger on the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who they say is painting an inaccurate and overly positive view of access in the capital, and has ignored the impact of brutal cuts to government spending.
After the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Johnson promised that London would host the “most accessible and inclusive Olympic and Paralympic games ever”, and he repeated that pledge when launching his Inclusive London website this March.
His website details the access features of hotels, restaurants, pubs, tourist attractions and 2012 venues and aims to be the “first port of call” for disabled people planning a trip to the capital.
But activists have now launched their own website, Inclusive London?, which they say allows disabled visitors to see “how inclusive and accessible London really is”.
Their “unofficial visitor guide” includes information on the mayor’s decision to slash plans to improve step-free access at tube stations, problems with the city’s inaccessible black taxis, cuts to Dial-a-Ride services, and problems with blue badge parking in central London.
The site also highlights cuts to disability benefits, workplace discrimination, the impact of air pollution on the life expectancy of the city’s disabled people, cuts to legal aid, the shortage of accessible housing, the coalition government’s pledge to “remove the bias towards inclusion” in the education system, and the tiny proportion of Cultural Olympiad funding that is going to disabled artists.
The website draws unfavourable comparisons with other cities to have hosted the Olympics and Paralympics, such as Barcelona, Beijing and Seoul.
Its launch comes as the accessible transport charity Transport for All (TfA) spoke out against plans to close weekday tube services to Kensington Olympia, the only fully step-free station in the area that allows interchange between rail and tube services and therefore access to the rest of central London. TfA said the plans would “further erode transport accessibility in London”.
Julie Newman, acting chair of the UK Disabled People’s Council, said the “true story” on access in London had so far been missing from the “flurry of publicity that greets every new announcement about the arrangements for 2012”.
She said: “In reality, we experience growing difficulties in accessing transport, parking and all of the activities and facilities that are such an intrinsic part of living in a nation’s capital.”
Newman questioned whether the public face of London was “moving towards one that doesn’t include disabled people”, and said she feared disabled people would be “rendered invisible through omission”.
She said the new website and campaign asked important questions and raised vital issues around 2012 access and inclusion.
The campaigners themselves have so far remained anonymous, operating instead under the banner of “Spasticus”, a reference to the 1981 song Spasticus Autisticus by the disabled musician Ian Dury, which itself refers to a famous scene in the Kirk Douglas film Spartacus.
Activists are now wearing “I’m Spasticus” badges to express their solidarity with the campaign and the idea that the issue affects all disabled people.
A spokesman for the mayor of London declined to comment on the new website, but said in a statement: “London’s spectacular Olympic and Paralympic venues are the most accessible new sporting facilities of any Games and while there is still more to be done we are working hard with businesses to ensure visitors can enjoy all of the capital’s attractions and amenities during their stay next summer.
“The InclusiveLondon website – which actively encourages businesses of all types to sign up, advertise and improve their accessibility – has notched up more than 2.5 million hits since its launch in March.”
A spokeswoman for the London 2012 organising committee LOCOG declined to comment.
28 July 2011