London Underground’s disabled access and inclusion investigated by researchers

Dr Sam Mutter

Dr Sam Mutter

17 June 2022

The barriers faced by people with disabilities when using public transport in towns and cities is being researched at Aberystwyth University.

The year-long project, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, will take a fresh look at how the design of transport spaces affects their inclusivity and accessibility.

It builds upon the social model of disability, which emphasises the role of the environment in producing or exacerbating disability.

The research will look at how mobile and multi-sensory approaches to how people use and interact with the London Underground, and other urban transport systems, can help improve understandings of accessibility.

This approach considers obstacles such as lack of ramps and lifts, but also finer design details such as the use of colour, sound, lighting, different shapes and textures, and lines of sight.

These details are often encountered only fleetingly, whilst people are on the move, yet can have a major impact on passenger experience.

The research will also consider the wide range of different, and sometimes conflicting, uses of transport spaces. As well as transportation itself, these include social interaction, work, leisure, retail and advertising, which increasingly includes digital and experiential advertising.

The study will look at how those features shape emotional and psychological experiences of transport, and their potential to cause feelings of anxiety and exclusion.

Dr Sam Mutter from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University commented:

"The difficulties faced by some groups, such as those with physical or mental impairments, when using spaces such as Underground train stations are considerable.These difficulties are not only physical barriers and they don’t only occur at entrances or train doors; they are experienced through multiple senses and emotions, and in the process of movement. There needs to be a better understanding of the needs and demands of people in these environments.”

“The project aims to examine the uneven effects of multi-sensory design features on inclusion and accessibility on the London Underground and other Transport for London networks. It begins from the wider premise that current approaches to accessible design within the UK transportation industry are based on narrow interpretations of accessibility which focus primarily on visual information and physical obstacles. As a consequence, design processes often fail to consider the implications of the more subtle, non-visual aspects of the spaces they help produce upon disabled passengers.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many people's relationship with transport and the study will consider this alongside the impact of increased automation of transport infrastructures.

The project will focus on the London Underground but will also highlight policy and design lessons for urban transport systems around the world.

Dr Mutter added:

“The research is going to look at broadening our understanding of this and wider accessibility and inclusion issues. COVID-19 and automation will certainly come into it as considerations. We will be considering transport hubs as lived spaces – how people move around them - and the political and social ramifications of that.”

 As part of the research, there will be engagement with a wide range of relevant organisations. This includes a workshop at the Royal Geographical Society today (17 June 2022) bringing academics from across a range of disciplines together with practitioners in transportation and policy-makers to exchange experiences and ideas.