Equality down the tube
by Eugene Grant
Transport for London’s decision to abandon its project to make seven tube stations more accessible to people with disabilities (as well as parents with buggies) comes as yet another striking blow to equal opportunities. According to the Evening Standard, following through with the project “was going to be more technically difficult than initially thought” and thus the £64 million project was “deferred indefinitely”. So too were the interests of London Underground’s disabled users.
Disability is as much a social construction as it is a medical ‘condition’. In a recent report on disabled people’s access to goods and services, Leonard Cheshire Disability point out: “It is the barriers and inaccessibility that people face that disables them – it is what denies people opportunities, it is what leads to inequality, social exclusion and disability poverty.
Fifteen years after the Disability Discrimination Act, some 40 per cent of disabled people in Britain still face difficulties accessing the same goods and services enjoyed by their non-disabled counterparts. In terms of transport, many are then forced to consider using a private, often hired, car – an expensive step backwards on the path to independent living. Such costs are part and parcel of Amartya Sen’s ‘conversion handicap’, i.e. the amount people have to spend on disabled-related services. Bearing in mind that disabled Britons are already at a gross disadvantage in terms of savings, income and employment and these kinds of expenses can become very significant.
Public spending is paramount to progressing towards disability equality, and removing the stubborn stain of discrimination from our social fabric once and for all. No one said the pursuit of social equality would be easy – especially as the belt tightens around the public purse - but the right of disabled people to exercise their full and equal citizenship cannot be deferred indefinitely.