The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics are a “massive opportunity” to improve permanently the accessibility of the capital, according to Britain’s greatest Paralympian.
Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson said she believed the standard of accessibility during the Olympics and Paralympics would be high.
But she said the key for her and other disabled campaigners would be to push for those standards to be maintained after the games had finished.
She told Disability News Service (DNS), at an event held to celebrate London 2012’s focus on diversity and inclusion: “People will expect quite a high level of accessibility. It is whether we can deliver those same things afterwards.”
She pointed to plans such as the widespread use of portable ramps on the tube network, which should make public transport more accessible during the games.
Baroness Grey-Thompson, a member of the 2012 organising committee LOCOG’s diversity board, said it would be vital to “keep up that level of pressure” afterwards, and added: “It is a massive opportunity for me to say, ‘you did it at games-time, so why can’t you do it now?’”
She also said that those involved in organising the games, who have placed a heavy emphasis on diversity, would take that ethos with them when they moved on to their next jobs.
She said: “It is not going to change the world, but I think it is going to improve it a lot.”
Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, told DNS at the same event that diversity and inclusion had “run like a thread” through the planning for London 2012 “from day one”, and that the games would set the benchmark for accessibility and inclusivity for future Olympic and Paralympic Games.
She said she believed London would be ready for the huge influx of disabled people expected to visit the city during the Paralympics.
Responding to concerns about whether enough had been done to improve the accessibility of London’s hotels, shops, and other services, she said that businesses that were not accessible would “lose out” during the games.
She added: “No city in the world is [accessible] in every pavement or entrance. Those that have made themselves accessible will benefit.”
Richard Barnes, London’s deputy mayor, who chairs the London 2012 Equality and Diversity Forum, had told the event they would be “the most accessible games ever”, while organisers of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio were already learning from London’s approach to accessibility.
He said £3.5 million had been spent by the mayor on improving access along the South Bank of the Thames between Westminster and Tower Bridge, which included relaying uneven cobblestones around Southwark.
LOCOG said hundreds of millions of pounds had been spent by Transport for London on improving access to the tube network ahead of the games, including new lifts and trains, platform humps, wide aisle gates, tactile paving, and audio and visual displays, providing a “lasting legacy for all Londoners”.
Barnes also pointed to the Inclusive London website, which provides access information about hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions in the capital.
The website faced criticism last November when an investigation found that, although it listed the access features of more than 1,500 hotels, only 12 per cent had been fully audited, while 61 per cent had no access information at all.
Leading disabled activists warned then that time was running out to make the necessary access improvements to provide enough accessible hotel accommodation in time for the Paralympics.
Disabled activists angry at the failure to put the city’s accessibility at the heart of London 2012 have set up their own website, Inclusive London?, which allows disabled visitors to see “how inclusive and accessible London really is”.
“Spasticus”, the anonymous disabled activist leading Inclusive London?, said last year that the mayor and LOCOG were “in complete denial about the city’s accessibility compared to other major cities worldwide”.