Question about Cambridge, London and accessibility

Many of you might remember that I have an adult daughter who is disabled. She has Cerebral Palsy and walks with crutches or uses a wheelchair or a scooter for long distances. She also has some fine motor problems. She is very self-sufficient and independant, and has been living on her own at a college about 150 miles from our home for 3 years. She is 22 years old and a college senior.

She is applying for graduate programs right now. The one she is most interested in (and that her advisor feels is the best match for her) is in Cambridge – the Cambridge in England, not the one in Massachusetts.

So, my question: how handicapped accessible is London? I was assuming it would be OK for her, especially since the professor she would be working for (and who has encouraged her to apply) has met her and knows her situation; but my husband heard from somebody he knows that England is not particularly accessible.

Are the streets easily accessible for wheelchairs, with curb cuts and all? How about the mass transit? What about the school itself? I know it’s old – will she be able to get around? What’s the weather like in London? She doesn’t get around real well in lots of snow…

This is just for curiousity’s sake, to tell the truth – if she gets in, and gets funding, she’d definately going. What’s the Straight Dope?

London is quite a distance from Cambridge, which I’ve only visited once, so my answers are mostly about London. I’ve been there with a disabled friend. She has a different disability, but must use a wheelchair so I can answer some of the questions on that basis.

The London subway system does have accessible stations, and the trains themselves are accessible, but it was much, much easier just to take an accessible taxi, of which there are many (but you usually have to call for them). Most stations and trains are crowded, and there are zillions of stairs. Central London is pretty good with curb cuts but it’s not perfect. Getting in and out of new buildings will not be a problem but many will be difficult. Just like here, “accessible” often means “…for a strong person with full use of their upper body.” Both London and Cambridge have extensive sections of cobblestone paving.

There isn’t much snow in London ever. Cambridge I’m not as sure about, but I don’t think it’s too bad most years.

You mention Oxford in the thread title, but Cambridge in the OP. Which university is your daughter applying to?

I lived in London for two years and noticed that it’s not particularly handicap friendy. A lot of the buildings are older and don’t have elevators. I visited Oxford once but didn’t go into any of the buildings so couldn’t comment. Your best bet is to contact the school directly and ask.

I’m confused here. Is she going to Oxford or Cambridge? And why are you asking about London?

Both Oxford and Cambridge will be fine for your daughter. Steven Hawking has spent many years at Cambridge. They won’t expect her to go up the stairs of the older colleges. More modern buildings have lifts.

Most UK Unis have special accomodation for at needs students, you should contact them and they will be able to give you and your daughter the advice she needs. As for London, it varies, places like the Cit, West End and Canary Wharf are usually accessible, others are not. Many Underground stations are, while others are not, I agree Taxi is the way to go.

All buses in London are now wheelchair accessible, apart from a few old Routemasters which only run on one route and are interleaved in the timetable with new buses. They all have ramps and “kneeling” mechanisms. London has an extremely extensive bus network, in fact much more extensive than the Tube. You seldom absolutely have to get the Tube anywhere, and if she got a taxi every time it would add up to a very expensive habit. Overground trains everywhere, including the ones in parts of London, are also accessible. She needn’t spend much time in London anyway, unless she wants to.

Both Oxford and Cambridge are easily accessible from London by train or coach, which will again have suitable accommodations for wheelchair users. You can also ask for assistance, either when you book your ticket or when you get to the station, and someone will carry your bags, take you to your seat on the train either by guiding/supporting you or in a wheelchair which they can provide (say if she had a “good” start to the day and went out on crutches but was too tired on the way back) and be generally helpful.

There are now really quite modern laws in this country which mean that any building open to the public (shops, museums, hospitals, schools, universities, restaurants, etc) must have disabled access. Sometimes, if the building’s listed (which limits scope for alterations) or very small or whatever, that amounts to them having to provide a couple of strapping young himbos to lift you up the steps, but as long as she doesn’t mind that (and that wouldn’t happen often), she’ll be fine. Most places have ramps, lifts, stairlifts, etc, though if the place is listed she may find that the less sightly appliances have been put at the back of the building. Only very, very few places will not be accessible to her at all, and it will be because they were built hundreds of years ago with no thought of allowing for someone with limited mobility. I’m thinking tiny little narrow corridors in Tudor houses, that sort of thing; the big sights (like the Tower), despite being up to a thousand years old, will be very easy for her to get around.

We don’t get a lot of snow here any more, and when we do it seems everything shuts down completely so no-one goes anywhere, so she needn’t worry about not getting around! She’ll also be extremely well protected by the Disablility Discrimination Act, should she find herself needing extra time to complete research (if she got stuck indoors by snow or something) or help accessing certain buildings or areas.

If she does come, I live on the ground floor in South London. She can come and have tea.

Sorry for the confusion – I put Oxford in the subject line, then second guessed myself and called her to clarify. She would be at Cambridge – I changed it in the body of the post, but forgot to change the subject line. If a mod could make that change for me, I’d appreciate it.

I asked about London because I thought it was closeish… am I wrong? She’s usually in good health, but she will have to have a fairly intricate medical procedure (refilling an intrathecal pump) every 3 months or so. I thought she might need a larger city for that.

Thanks everyone. It looks like I should have done a bit more research before I posted. Sorry! I know nothing about the geography of England, I’m afraid. I’ve been to London (once), many years ago, and never went anywhere but pubs.

Teacake – I’ll pass your invitation along to her. Also your comment about the himbos, which she’ll like!

Cambridge has excellent hospitals of its own, so hopefully she shouldn’t have to travel for that. London is pretty nearby though, and I’m sure she’ll want to visit it at some point during the year - off the top of my head, I think the train takes about forty five minutes.

Done. Left “London” in, though, since she’ll presumably be interested in going there if possible.

The Underground is not always wheelchair friendly - the tube map indicates which stations have step free access, and while most newer stations have lifts installed, most of central London will is inaccessible by tube. This pdf: redraws the map to only include wheelchair accessible stations.

Just to endorse Teacake’s excellent post(s). As for medical care, I also doubt she’d need to go to London - Cambridge has one of the best teaching/research hospitals in the country. Indeed many people travel TO Cambridge for specialist care, not away from it! You might want to check out this link:

And of course, Stephen Hawking is a Professor at Cambridge and seems to cope just fine living there.

If she has not already done so, she should get in touch with the university’s Disability Resource Centre.

Presumably she’ll be flying into and out of London, and it’s probably the first place she’ll want to go for sightseeing when she’s finished with Cambridge (which probably has a week’s worth of sightseeing itself). Stansted Airport is only about 25 minutes from Cambridge by car, but I don’t think any of the major air carriers fly there directly from the US. Heathrow is the easiest one to fly to from the US, and has hourly coach services to Cambridge (takes about 2 1/2 hours). Gatwick is on the wrong side of London and it takes nearly 4 hours to get from there to Cambridge by coach.

SkeptiJess, London is close to Cambridge in the US sense - it’s about 50 miles from the upper reaches of London to Cambridge - but not in the UK sense. English people tend to think of any journey of over 50 miles as a long one. If she’s taking the train rather than driving she probably won’t want to go there and back in a day at any rate; it takes at least 2 1/2 hours to get from the interesting bits of London to Cambridge, or vice versa.

I’d have to disagree with that. The train from Cambridge takes between 50 and 90 minutes, depending on whether it’s the fast train or the stopping train. That takes you straight into King’s Cross, from which you can be at, for example, Trafalgar Square (National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin in the Fields, top of Whitehall with all it entails, top of the Mall, end of the Strand, bottom of Charing Cross Road, etc) in 20 minutes, or at the British Museum in less (17 minutes). I’ve had some lovely daytrips from London to Cambridge, and I know a lot of people who live in Cambridge and commute to London every day, so it’s certainly very doable. I’d be more worried about the cost - train tickets here are ridiculously expensive. She’ll need to book in advance to get any kind of reasonable price.