I had never lived in London before this year, and I’ve discovered that living here is very different from commuting to here from Oxford and Egham (and traveling here as a tourist). The inaccessibility of London is a reality I didn’t have to face – and didn’t realize the extent of – until I lived here. My first ‘night out’ when I moved to London was with an old friend. We had dinner and drinks and went dancing. It was really fun and I got a bit drunk (but not very drunk or thoroughly drunk). My friend walked me to the tube station that was nearest to the club, which turned out to be inaccessible (in that it didn’t have stairs or a lift, just escalators) and I had to ask for help with the escalator. I told the man whom I asked for help that I was physically impaired and a bit drunk and I needed help. He helped me, but told me off for taking the tube drunk. I understood why he did it, but I felt the need to explain that I would have needed help regardless of my state of sobriety because my impairment prevented me from taking the escalator by myself. This was one of those rare instances when my disability was not the ‘issue’ at hand, and I faced a problem that ‘normal’ people face (sometimes having to ask for help with the escalator when intoxicated). My disability was not at the forefront of the problem (though it would have been were I sober).
When I got onto the tube, I sobbed, mascara running all over my face. I didn’t care who saw me or heard me or whether or not they were concerned. When I got off the tube to transfer to another line, there was no one to help me with the escalators to the platform, so I made my way out of the station (having to ask for help with the stairs), found a taxi, and cried the rest of the way back. I wasn’t angry with the man who told me off. I was angry at myself for needing the help (and for having further problems with the tube once I’d got the initial help I needed). My cab driver recommended the Hailo app so I wouldn’t be stuck waiting for cabs when I was vulnerable and alone (the app allows you to find nearby cabs that then come to your location and pick you up). He also let me cry and didn’t make me feel bad for it. When I got back to my residence, a few people in the foyer asked me if I was okay. I said yes (though I wasn’t) and I actually took the stairs up to my room rather than the lift. I was utterly humiliated and so, so angry. That experience completely put me off asking for help with escalators and forced me to find completely accessible routes for getting everywhere. I’d expected to have to ask for help with London transport from time to time, but not to be told off for being drunk.
I have now got into the habit of making sure I meet friends at accessible stations or through accessible routes and telling people I just meet that I need accessible transportation routes. People are understanding and accommodating and don’t begrudge me the help. I just wish it weren’t even an issue at all (though I’ve discovered through this experience that everyone has Tube Fears and everyone has had some bad experiences). I just don’t want to be an inconvenience or an embarrassment to anyone (or to draw attention to my limitations at all). This is just a Reality I Have Had To Face in London. I didn’t expect it to have the effect it has had on my life, but I have learned not only to adjust, but to be open to further adjustments as new challenges arise. It’s – as one would say – part of the process.