The current “wheelchair standard” used to ensure that vehicle and infrastructure designs across the transport sector are spacious enough only covers about half of all mobility aids used by disabled people in the UK, according to a government study.
The new research, commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT), says the government may need to consider updating the reference wheelchair standard to allow a greater proportion of disabled people to use rail, bus, taxi and private hire vehicles and transport infrastructure.
It says that its “key finding” is that “the current reference wheelchair specification” covers only 54 per cent of all mobility aid users.
The research was published this week as part of the government’s ongoing review of the standard, which is due to report next year.
This week’s report says that mobility aids are becoming bigger and heavier as disabled people expect them to have “increased functionality and range”, and this trend is expected to continue over the next 10 years.
This is causing problems with on-vehicle spaces and toilets that are too small, and with insufficient height clearance in taxis and private hire vehicles.
But the report warns that there are “trade-offs” between making transport more accessible to those with larger mobility aids and “the practicalities for transport operators to accommodate larger and more diverse mobility aids within the physical space limits of conventionally sized public transport vehicles”.
Wendy Morton, the accessible transport minister, told MPs this week that the research findings would be used “to help form the broader evidence base to determine the design of future vehicles and transport infrastructure to meet mobility aid users’ needs”.
The publication of the evidence came as the government announced new funding of £1.5 million to support another six driving and mobility assessment centres across England to roll out the new HUB transport advice and signposting service, which the Driving Mobility charity has already been piloting at seven of its centres.
HUBs aim to help disabled people for whom driving a car is not possible, offering advice on alternatives such as community transport, mobility scooters, and accessible bus, coach, rail and plane travel.
But the announcement was overshadowed when DfT also tried to claim that £1 million to improve access at seaports serving the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly was new funding.
Disability News Service had to question DfT twice before it finally admitted that the seaport funding had been announced in last year’s much-criticised National Disability Strategy.
DfT also announced this week that it had completed the 1,000th audit of accessibility at British rail stations.
The government has committed to auditing all 2,565 rail stations in England, Scotland and Wales.
Meanwhile, DfT has published three other pieces of research on accessible transport.
One report reviewed five projects that received a total of £600,000 funding from the accessible transport element of the 2020 Technology Research and Innovation Grants programme.
The projects included an improved system for communication between disabled passengers and ground handling agents at airports, and a system to improve the “whole journey” experience for disabled passengers using multiple forms of transport.
A second report detailed the latest results of the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy “scorecard”.
The figures, to be updated annually until 2024, show that the percentage of taxis that were wheelchair-accessible decreased from 57 per cent to 54 per cent between 2019-20 and 2020-21, while the percentage of private hire vehicles that were wheelchair-accessible remained at just two per cent.
The number of blue badges held by people with invisible impairments increased from 22,463 to 39,702.
The final report focused on research into the use of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles.
Disabled people who took part in the study “expressed a strong preference” for travelling by this rather than any other form of transport.
They said that planning and booking wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles was an essential part of their life, and that the limited availability of these services impacted on their ability to travel spontaneously.
They also emphasised the importance of drivers being trained to provide appropriate assistance.
Meanwhile, the British Standards Institution (BSI) has launched a consultation on a draft standard for accessible charging of electric vehicles, which is open until 4 May.
BSI said the standard would be the first of its kind internationally, and “intends to set out the requirements for the provision of accessible public charging for all plug-in vehicles to all potential users and pedestrians, to create an inclusive charging environment”.
Picture by Driving Mobility
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…