Wheels for Wellbeing, an advocating group on behalf of disabled people who wheel and cycle, is calling on the Government and local authorities to prioritise the freedom of movement of disabled and older people in post-lockdown Britain.
According to the group, lockdown is having a greater detrimental impact on disabled people, who are more likely to have been self-isolating, had fewer opportunities to exercise, and experienced greater social isolation.
While local authorities across the country are introducing temporary and emergency active travel measures such as pop up bikes lanes and widening pavements, to aid people in social distancing when moving around, the charity says that unless this infrastructure is accessible to all and disabled car parking is retained, disabled people will not be able to safely physically distance.
According to Wheels for Wellbeing 19% of the population are aged over 65, and 21% of UK adults are disabled. Over the past few months, the NHS has advised 1.8 million people who are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 infection to practice shielding and remain at home, however being isolated indoors for prolonged periods can lead to increased risk of ill health and greater care needs.
The Chief Medical Officer recommends that every adult, including disabled people, should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise to improve their mental and physical health, however even before lockdown disabled people were half as likely to achieve this.
“Disabled people want and need to walk, wheel and cycle to rebuild our fitness and so we can get back to our lives after weeks in lockdown,” said Wheels for Wellbeing Director, Isabelle Clement. “However, if pop-up cycle lanes and widened pavements are rushed and aren’t fully accessible, streets will become no-go areas for us, forcing many to lock ourselves away until a vaccine or treatment are found.
“So we call on Government and local authorities to engage with disability groups nationally and locally. We can help to get it right.”
Wheels for Wellbeing is suggesting new temporary cycle lanes should be called ‘micromobility lanes’ for use by anyone with a mobility scooter, e-Bike, scooter or conventional bike who wishes to use the road surface but travel faster than pedestrians. A cycle Blue Badge scheme would allow those people who cycle but cannot dismount or walk their cycle to access the pavement and wheel considerately in pedestrianised areas when accessing buildings.
The charity is calling on the Government to recognise cycles as mobility aids, and says a public education campaign should be run to raise awareness of everyone’s role in ensuring disabled people are safe when out and about.
Clement added: “We strongly believe that when streets are safe for disabled people to physically distance, they will be all the safer for everyone else too. Inclusive design isn’t a nice to have anymore, it’s a public health priority.”