Barrier-Free Travel: London

Wheeling around London
Sightseeing in London with the British Airways London Eye in the background.

Fall is an excellent time to visit London. The weather is mild, the summer tourist crowds are gone and several attractions offer special behind-the-scenes tours. This fall London also offers visitors a more accessible experience, thanks to recent changes in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Originally passed in 1995, this national access legislation makes it illegal for providers of services and facilities to discriminate against any person with a disability. The DDA applies to public accommodations such as hotels, airports and entertainment venues, as well as to most ground transportation. Last October the DDA was further amended and strengthened to include even the smallest businesses; so today many more UK attractions are now accessible to wheelchair-users and slow walkers.

Ground transportation is always a prime concern for people who require accessible services. Fortunately London has a number of accessible transportation choices, so despite recent service interruptions, there are still many options.

Currently the most accessible way to get around in central London is by cab. All London black cabs are required to be accessible, either by a portable ramp or a fold-down “dickie” transfer seat. Alternatively you can hire a private accessible tour cab, like CabGuide, for day tours in and around London. For detailed information about accessible transportation options in London, call the Tripscope Helpline for the latest updates.

Kensington Palace
Ramp access to the Orangery at Kensington Palace

Fall is the perfect time to visit the Houses of Parliament, as special tours are offered during the annual recess. This year Parliament is open for tours from August 2 to October 5. All tours start at the Sovereign’s entrance and follow the path of the Sovereign through Parliament. The majority of this excellent guided tour is wheelchair-accessible, with two stair-lifts along the route. Advance reservations are a must and tickets are available through Keith Prowse Ticketing.

The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are also open for tours from mid-summer to early fall. These 19 lavishly appointed rooms are used to entertain state guests on official occasions and they are only open to visitors during the Queen’s annual visit to Scotland. This year State Room tours are offered through September 27. The accessible State Room tour bypasses the long lines at the tourist entrance and begins at the North Central Gate. It features stair-climber and elevator access to all floors. Advance reservations are a must as space is limited on this very popular tour.

Tickets for the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace can be purchased on site, and both buildings offer barrier-free access. There is no charge to watch the famous changing of the guard ceremony, which starts promptly at 11:30 a.m. on even numbered days in September.

Kensington Palace is also worth a visit. No doubt you’ll find bouquets for Princess Diana at the main gate of the palace, since this was her residence. There is level access to the main level of Kensington Palace; however the state apartments are only accessible by stairs. The sunken gardens also offer level access, and there is ramp access to the adjacent Orangery, where visitors can enjoy afternoon tea or a snack.

Tower Bridge
The classic Tower Bridge is definitely worth a visit.

The Tower Bridge is another must-see London attraction. The entrance is located in the northwest tower. To avoid the stairs, approach the bridge from Tower Bridge Road, rather than from The Tower of London. The Tower Bridge Experience features interactive displays, which illustrate the history and explain the inner workings of the bridge. There is elevator access to all floors, but wheelchair access is limited to two wheelchairs per show. Visitors can also stroll across the walkways, which connect the two bridge towers and get a great view of London.

Of course, the best view of London is from the top of the British Airways London Eye. Billed as the world’s highest observation wheel, the London Eye revolves very slowly, and it takes approximately 30 minutes to complete one revolution. There is ramped access to each London Eye capsule, which can accommodate up to 25 people. Additionally, wheelchair-users are fast-tracked to the front of the line whenever possible.

And finally, for a very accessible place to rest your head, check out the Copthorne Tara Hotel in fashionable Kensington. This four-star hotel features 10 wheelchair-accessible rooms with wide doorways, open frame beds and automatic doors. Two of the rooms have ceiling track lifts, while six rooms have roll-in showers. Special equipment, including re-circulating mattresses and trapeze assistance bars, is also available from housekeeping. The Copthorne Tara Hotel truly is one of the most accessible properties I’ve ever visited.

If You Go

CabGuide

+44 7939 070224

www.cabguide.com

Tripscope Helpline

+44 8457 58 56 41

www.tripscope.org.uk

Keith Prowse Ticketing

+44 870 906 3773

www.ticketswitch.com

Buckingham Palace Ticket Sales and Information

+44 20 7766 7324

www.royalcollection.org.uk

Kensington Palace

+44 870 751 5170

www.hrp.org.uk/webcode/kensington_home.asp

Tower Bridge

+44 20 7407 9191

www.towerbridge.org.uk

London Eye

+44 870 5000 600

www.ba-londoneye.com

Copthorne Tara

+44 20 7872 2000

www.millenniumhotels.com

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