This is our sixth and final story in our “mini series” of personal stories and case studies collated for the National Outdoors for All Working Group (NOfAWG), to accompany the group’s report on barriers to accessing local green spaces. It’s a collection of stories kindly provided to us by our colleagues at Wheels for Wellbeing.
Wheels for Wellbeing (WfW) is an award-winning charity supporting Disabled people of all ages and abilities in the UK to enjoy the benefits of cycling. The organisation follows a person-centred approach based on the Social Model of Disability. They work to remove or overcome any barriers that prevent an individual from cycling.
Cycling is of course, one of the many ways that people like to get around town and enjoy their local parks and green spaces, in addition to being a super way to keep active. Disabled people encounter many barriers to cycling, including much higher than average costs for adapted bikes and trikes, and inadequate infrastructure. WfW actively campaign to remove those barriers, in addition to directly supporting Disabled people to cycle.
According to their latest research, inaccessible cycle infrastructure is the biggest difficulty faced by Disabled cyclists. This is perhaps unsurprising given the kinds of cycles that many Disabled people use, such as handcycles, recumbents and trikes, which are typically longer and wider than standard two-wheeled bicycles – together with the fact that most Disabled cyclists use their cycle as a mobility aid and can’t physically dismount and walk or wheel their cycle. Physical barriers, such as bollards, bridges and kissing gates, pose real and everyday problems that limit Disabled cyclists’ ability to cycle where and when they want.
Stories from Disabled people and their families
The organisation has collected – and hosts on its website – many stories of where Disabled people have encountered barriers to cycling in their local parks and green spaces. Some of these stories, told in their own words, also highlight the successes that some people have had. Here is one, from Kay in Liverpool:
Challenging inaccessible cycle infrastructure (2018)
“I have recently moved to Liverpool and one of the pleasures of my new location is being able to cycle the ‘three parks’ route home from work. It’s longer than taking the roads, but it’s safer and takes me through the glorious Sefton Park, past the lake and the geese in Greenbank Park, and through the tree-lined avenue in Wavertree (The Mystery) Park. It’s a great way to unwind after a long day and connect with nature on my way home, as well as getting a good upper body workout.
However, last month I was outraged to find that the gate into Wavertree Park had been changed so that it was impossible for me to pass through with my handcycle. This would of course also exclude other people cycling non-standard cycles, such as trikes or those with child carriers or trailers, as well as Disabled people who ride a bicycle but cannot dismount and carry their bike through the gate.
I immediately contacted Liverpool City Council and, to their credit, I got a very fast response from one councillor and the head of parks and green spaces. The head of parks and green spaces arranged to meet me at the gate the following Monday to discuss changing the gate so that Disabled people are not prevented from entering the park. The meeting was very positive. I made the council aware of the obstruction caused by the gate and a commitment was made to remove it.
We agreed that some form of barrier needed to be in place so that dogs and children could not simply run straight out of the park and onto the busy road, but we also agreed that whilst the exact design of this barrier was developed the obstructive gate should not be in place.
Just over a week after my initial complaint, the gate was fixed!
This was a positive experience of raising a complaint and having it addressed with speed and gravity. I hope that it encourages more Disabled cyclists to challenge discrimination and, more importantly, prompts more public bodies to fully implement their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.”
Further stories of Disabled people and their families successfully accessing their local parks and urban green spaces to cycle, can be found on WfW’s website. Here are links to just some of the stories from Rick, Ellis, Rafferty, Edie and “another” Kay based in London.
Kay from London’s daughter, Jess commented,
“’We are happy to help to publicise the need for access, and to help remove barriers to access to public green spaces – as long as providing that access does not harm the place itself – we don’t want tarmac paths to be driven though woods and meadows where they don’t really belong, but if there is a path that can reasonably be accessible, we want barriers removed and the path maintained in good condition.
I personally feel we would use local parks more if we could access them. For example, the picture with the dog bin and railings show one inaccessible walk, though during the summer there was a slight improvement to a footbridge near there. People in Hillingdon are very concerned that motorbikes will abuse the parks and green spaces, which may possibly be the case, I don’t really know, but making it difficult for wheelchairs does not necessary keep out motor bikes. We and they can go across the grass if determined!”
Image: Courtesy of Wheels for Wellbeing