European Mobility Week’s coming – How practical is it for the disabled?

European Mobility Week (EMW) is nearly upon us and this year’s theme is “multimodality” which, in more every-day speak, means we’re being encouraged to reflect on how we travel and how we could combine different modes of transport when getting from A to B.

By way of an introduction for the uninitiated, or refresh for the already-familiar, EMW is a well-intentioned campaign that aims to promote sustainable transport across Europe. It takes place every year between the 16th and 22nd of September.

The positive sentiment also highlights some important questions about the nature of transport, mobility and therefore participation. For example, people living in rural areas with few transport options could find themselves at a disadvantage. And what if their geographical disadvantage goes further and extends to a disability, and primarily a mobility disability? Would they even be able to take part? Or would they have to resign themselves to being excluded; potentially compounding frustrations they might already feel in relation to their mobility?

It is questions such as these that need to be considered if the campaign is to reach an even wider audience and be more inclusive.

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The benefits

Most people in the UK commute to work using just one mode of transport, with the possible addition of a short walk out of necessity rather than choice. EMW however aims to raise awareness of the benefits, to both the individual and the environment, of using two or more modes of transport across one journey that we wouldn’t, perhaps out of habit, usually combine.

In metropolitan centres, such as London, this could mean opting to walk to the next tube station along the line and getting off a stop earlier. In smaller cities and towns, a Park and Ride scheme could be explored. In more rural areas, a bike ride to the next village combined with a car-share might be possible.

The benefits of mixing up our transport options and taking a new route to work, for example, include better health, less pollution, and a widening of our experience of our local environment i.e. we might see places and things we wouldn’t normally see.

How these benefits would play out for people with reduced mobility already is one area of concern though. The physical health benefits might be unattainable depending on the pre-existing nature of a person’s health. If alternative modes and routes of transport aren’t available either, then new perspectives of the local environment and a lowering of pollution wouldn’t be realised either. Of course, these questions don’t just apply to people with disabilities. They apply to us all.

Those concerns notwithstanding, this campaign might also result in other benefits. Both disabled and able-bodied up for the challenge will be in it together, enjoying the fun, potential good-humoured chaos, and ultimately the possible life-changing success of trying something new and beneficial, not only for themselves but also for the environment.

 Mobility Scooter users and recreational cyclists side by side on designated pathways enjoying the health benefits of fresh air and social interaction. Why not? Able-bodied and disabled colleagues committing to a joint revised travel plan that allows both to not only break out of individual comfort zones but affords the potential for blossoming friendship and a lower carbon footprint. Sounds great!

Mainstream and specialist schools could partner up. Walk to School schemes could be extended to be more inclusive of children with disabilities – something that could work very well in smaller towns and villages where excess traffic is less of a problem.

 All this is possible; but is it likely?

The success or failure of any initiative – whether designed for people with or without disabilities – is down to a variety of factors including individual personality, circumstance, geography, funds, and infrastructure. Many people thrive on a challenge, but some do not. Add to this the pre-existing, day-to-day challenges faced by those with a tiring and fluctuating condition, such as MS, and it’s clear that any extra challenge may be asking too much.

 If alternative travel options simply aren’t available then large numbers of people, regardless of ability, may be automatically prevented from taking part. Enabling fuller inclusion might require much more preparation; the implementation of disability-friendly options would have to be carefully considered at government planning level and perhaps extended to employers and beyond.

 As Gerry Bucke, General Manager of Chartwell – provider of specialist insurance and advocate for the disabled community – explains “We need to ensure everyone who wishes to participate in well-intentioned initiatives like European Mobility Week, is supported as much as possible and therefore best-placed to enjoy the potential benefits. The implementation of more wheelchair allocation on public transport and extra assistance – especially during Tube strikes – at bus, rail and taxi stations, for example, would be a positive step in this respect.”

Things are heading in the right direction. With some additional preparation, investment and promotion, participating in European Mobility Week could be much more inclusive and help improve the quality of independent living for people with disabilities.

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