Low Traffic Neighbourhoods need more engagement with disabled people to improve accessibility

Summary

A new report, by Transport for All, shows disabled people have not been properly involved in designing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Far too often other people have chosen to speak on disabled people’s behalf and used disability access to support their side of the argument. Real is calling for meaningful and effective engagement with disabled people. This would find out what will really work well for them and the wider community. 

Pave The Way

Transport for All released their report “Pave the Way” recently. The report looks at how Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes have been introduced in different areas across the country, specifically focussing on disabled people’s experiences. The Liveable Streets initiative is the Tower Hamlets example of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme.  

A number of the report’s key findings resonated with Real’s experiences around Liveable Streets. For example, it describes how disabled people have experienced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods becoming polarised within their communities. Within these debates disabled people have felt like their position has been used by both sides of the debate without actively involving them in the discussion.  

Strikingly, in the Pave the Way report, disabled people specifically identified Tower Hamlets as one of the areas that feels particularly polarised. Based on feedback from people we work with, and the upset comments posted on our twitter feed, Real understands and agrees with this. 

The in-depth research Transport For All conducted shows disabled people are experiencing both benefits and challenges from Local Traffic NeighbourhoodsDisabled people are not all the same and what works well for some people can create new barriers for others if they are not properly thought through.

Local Traffic Neighbourhoods are identified as a missed opportunity to address many existing accessibility issues. People face problems such as a lack of drop curbs, and cycle lanes that are too small for adapted cycles. This leaves disabled people excluded from opportunities to access their streets. Public Health England issued a briefing to Local Authorities in 2016 on ‘Active Travel’ (this is a term for travel involving physical activity, such as walking and cycling). The briefing groups elderly people together with ‘people with disabilities’. This prevents it from fully recognising the differing challenges that disabled people face. As the Pave the Way report states: 

 “‘Normal’ – what we had before – was not accessible enough either.”  

Real’s recommendations

Real believes that what is needed is a real investigation into the accessibility of our street and public environmentsWe are concerned that the importance of this is getting lost in the charged debate.

Meaningful engagement, sometimes called co-production, requires:

  • funding
  • time
  • effort
  • expertise to facilitate
  • disabled people holding the power to make change

Real would love to be doing this work. However, already we are often working beyond the scope of our funding to engage with emerging issues disabled people face. To make this feasible it is essential councils provide proper funding.

When decisions are made without disabled people driving or challenging them, their needs are regularly not met. Overall we remain concerned that disabled people’s voices will be heard less and less on issues that matter to them. This includes on the Liveable Streets initiatives.

We call on Tower Hamlets Council to take seriously the importance of engagement with disabled people. They should properly fund the support needed to make this work and be effective.  

We also invite disabled people across Tower Hamlets to join Real. We are a user-led organisation of disabled people, and we believe we are as only as effective as the collective voice we represent. To join Real visit: 

www.real.org.uk/members 

Notes to editors

  • Real is the only user-led organisation of disabled people in Tower Hamlets that works with people of all impairment types, all age groups, and all ethnicities. We have been known as Real for the last 9 years and have been based in Tower Hamlets for over 25 years. 
  • We subscribe to the social model of disability, which shows we are not disabled by our impairments, but by society’s attitudes and response to them. We support the mantra of the disability rights movement: “Nothing about us, without us”. 
  • The “Pave the Way” report by Transport for All can be found here. 
  • We made a statement on Real’s involvement with and position on Liveable Streets on 30 November 2021 – click here to access. 
  • On 3 December 2021, International Day of Disabled People, Real’s CEO, Mike Smith, wrote a thought piece entitled “Working towards Real Rights, Real access and Real inclusion”. Reference is made on page 7 to the challenges of effective engagement around Liveable Streets. 
  • The Active Travel Briefing for Local Authorities from 2016 can be found here. 
  • Local Voices, a project run by Real on behalf of Tower Hamlets Council. The project has a number of remits, which includes creating an accessible space for disabled people to have their say in council consultations. However, there are many consultations affecting disabled people. For example, the recent consultation on cuts to day centres.  We do not have enough resources to do everything different council departments ask us to do. This is because Local Voices has been funded at the same level for the last 7 years. The current funding ends in March 2021, and there are plans to reduce any replacement funding further going forward under a new engagement model. 

Contact details for Real

Main number: 020 7001 2170

Main email: hello@real.org.uk

Media enquiries: media.enquiries@real.org.uk