Cycling for the disabled: One size does not fit all

One of the issues that has frustrated me since developing joint problems is the assumptions that are made regarding what disabled people require.

I admit, I’m a rare case. Sitting disabilities are not common, and usually have a root cause in the spine. With me, it’s my hip(s), and the only spine problems I have appear to be a result of managing the hip condition.

Nevertheless, normal adaptations make my life worse. In my experience, a short flight of stairs or steps are easier for me than a longer ramp, I can’t use a wheelchair, and chairs with armrests are the work of the devil.

I ride a normal bike, I go out on club runs, I sometimes ride 100 miles with no ill-effects. Yet, I cannot walk more than 50 metres unaided, and on a bad day, even getting out of the house is more than I can bear.

I’ve figured out how to cope with shopping: my local Sainsbury’s is good enough to let me bring my bike inside so I can complete a couple of sorties down the short aisles, and I’ll haunt farmers’ markets as I can ride or walk my bike up to the front of the stands. Other goods I have delivered. Most of the time, I can manage.

However, some days I have to ride my bike where I ‘shouldn’t’. The odd bit of pavement to get to a cashpoint or when I don’t fancy dealing with traffic, or some paths which aren’t shared use. If I do so, I’ll cycle the speed of a brisk walk, or slower, respecting the other users.

I manage. Or I try to manage.

But, it’s not just me.  There was an interesting article in the Guardian the other day quoting a recent census:

This is often an ignored area but the statistics show that 5.1% of cycle commuters in England and Wales are people whose day-to-day activities are limited in some way – that is to say they have some form of disability. While this isn’t much below the total proportion of commuters with disabilities, at 6.8%, there is a huge variation between areas for bike commuting among those with disabilities, ranging from 0.2% to 25.9%.

Aldred says this is a very little-researched area:

The results confirm that transport policy and research should cover planning for inclusive cycling, as it addresses issues of public transport accessibility and provision for disabled car users. This means studying engineering constraints (like a handcycle’s turning radius), but also research asking people with different disabilities what they would need to cycle.

The charity Wheels for Wellbeing notes that the census could well underplay the extent of disabled cycling as many people who use trikes or handcycles might well be listed in the category of “other” rather than under “bicycles”.

The charity’s director, Isabelle Clement, said:

We find that most people believe disabled people don’t cycle. This census data puts this misconception to rest. Many disabled people cycle with impairments which are not visible as they whiz past. In fact, many people use their cycle as a mobility aid. It does not make them less disabled and it is crucial that transport planners, cycle infrastructure designers etc. take the needs of disabled cyclists into account.

Then I read stuff like this and it just depresses me:

Charities critical of guidance which would allow cyclists to use pedestrian areas in Wales

Is there any research proving that ‘allowing cyclists in busy pedestrianised areas could increase collisions and the chance of injury’?

Because if I wasn’t allowed to cycle in pedestrianised areas, it would, not ‘could’, increase my chance of injury and pain.


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