The essential journalist news source
Accessibility challenges to remain for wheelchair and scooter users









The Government's recently published National Disability Strategy identifies a bold vision to transform the everyday lives of disabled people. An aspiration which is no doubt welcome, and arguably overdue. With the details of this strategy still yet to be defined and any real impact expected to be some years away, Helen Dolphin, MBE explains about her recent experiences using the public transport network as a wheelchair user.


The Government's National Disability Strategy, published in July 2021, identified a single, unifying vision, that of "transforming disabled people's everyday lives". The strategy attempts to build upon the progress made since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and subsequent Equality Act were introduced, in 1995 and 2010, respectively. The strategy acknowledges the significant challenges disabled people face, on a day-to-day basis, and it does appear, on paper, to be ambitious in both design and scope. But, while its motives and commitments to additional funding are indeed welcome, much of the planning and subsequent actions are still yet to be determined - through consultations, as well as further collaboration with government agencies and other industry bodies. Thus, any real impact or improvements are still some way off from being realised for disabled travellers, particularly those using wheelchairs, power chairs or mobility scooters to get around.


As the new strategy indicates, "everyday journeys - to work, school, to see family and friends, to access essential services like health and care - are fraught with uncertainty for many disabled people." The Department for Transport (DfT) Inclusive Transport Strategy, published in 2018, was designed with the aim to accelerate improvements in the accessibility of transport networks. It is true, disabled people are often frequent users of public transport, but many obstacles and challenges still remain as a barrier to truly effortless journeys. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have further slowed the pace of any real progress in improvements on accessibility. The government clearly states that it is determined to, "deliver a transport system which is accessible for all". It also recognises that "reliable transport can be transformational in living an independent life." The strategy identifies several key areas of focus, namely, tackling persistent accessibility issues across the transport network and enabling disabled people to travel with confidence.


As a vision, the strategy sets out a clear motivation to improve the lives of disabled people, however any improvements to the transport network and further changes to legislation are unlikely to be implemented for several years. This means disabled people will have to continue to use a transport network, arguably, only partially fit-for-purpose - at best.  


Reacting to the publication of the Government's National Strategy, Disability Rights UK CEO, Kamran Mallick, commented: "Disabled people have been waiting a long time for a strategy that has meat on its bones.

"Despite being nearly 100 pages long, the strategy is disappointingly thin on immediate actions, medium-term plans and the details of longer-term investment.

"The strategy has insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities that Disabled people experience in living standards and life chances.

"There are scant plans and timescales on how to bring about vastly needed improvements to benefits, housing, social care, jobs, education, transport, and equitable access to wider society."


Martyn Sibley from Disability Horizons also commented: "As much as the headlines look nice to the general public - £1.6bn on disabled people.

"Take the London underground as a transport example. With two-thirds of the stations inaccessible for wheelchair users, you could easily spend £1.6bn on sorting this one issue alone."


Helen Dolphin, MBE, is a committed campaigner on improving transport for disabled people. After becoming a quadruple amputee due to contracting meningitis in her early twenties, Helen trained as a journalist and worked for ITV Anglia News as a news reporter. She followed this by taking up the role of Director of Policy and Campaigns for a national disability charity. Helen now works as an independent mobility specialist, advising government, public, commercial and professional bodies on how to improve accessibility for disabled users.


As it's been more than 20 years since the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations were introduced, its highly likely the needs and expectations of disabled users has changed. The DfT is planning to commission research into the design of bus stations and bus stops in England to better understand what improvements can be implemented. To highlight some of the potential challenges disabled users face on a day-to-day basis, Helen Dolphin explains about her recent experiences with a wheelchair, whilst using the bus network in the Cambridge area.


Travelling by bus with a powered wheelchair

"With lockdown restrictions coming to an end, I was desperate to get out of the house and start exploring, visiting new and interesting places again. As I was in Cambridge for the weekend visiting my parents, I thought it would be good to take my four-year-old son to the Fitzwilliam Museum. To get to the museum, I decided to use the Park and Ride bus service. As its lightweight and easy to fold, I was able to take my Efoldi powered wheelchair with me and store it in the car boot on the way to the bus station. I had not used a bus since before the first lockdown, so I must admit I was a little apprehensive about the journey ahead. It was also my first trip on a bus with my wheelchair, so I was really interested to see how it coped with the journey.


Download image

"The good thing about the park and ride service is that there is very little waiting time for a bus. In fact, the bus was already at the bus stop when we arrived. When the bus driver saw me arrive, he got out of his cab and put the ramp down almost straight away. My power chair easily drove up the ramp and I was able to drive into the allocated wheelchair space on the bus with ease. Luckily, the park and ride buses have a space for wheelchairs as well as a space for pushchairs so there was no competition for spaces on this occasion.

"To ensure my wheelchair wasn't going to move too much during the bus journey, I applied the manual brakes to secure the chair in place. I had no issues during the trip, and my chair stayed put for the entire journey. There are only a small number of stops on this park and ride bus service so I had to get off a short distance away from the museum entrance. As I arrived a little earlier than expected, I made the most of my time and decided to visit a few shops, close to the museum. Fortunately, my chair is great for shopping, as it's not too wide, fits between all the clothes rails and is quite manoeuvrable, which makes it very easy to use in confined spaces.


Download image 

"Cambridge city centre has a lot of cobbles and uneven stone paving, and to get to the museum I had to drive over a lot of difficult terrain. It was a little bit bumpy, but actually my wheelchair managed the cobbles pretty well. Before I'd left home, I had noticed the battery on my wheelchair was only halfway charged so I made sure I kept a spare battery with me in case I needed it along the way. Even though I'd driven around the department store, all the way up to the museum and around the museum and then back to the bus stop again I still had some charge left so I didn't need a spare battery. On my return journey, the bus back to my car was empty apart from my family on it, so we had the bus to ourselves. It was great getting out and about again and having the opportunity to put my Efoldi power chair through its paces - and it coped really well. It was so nice not to have to be pushed, and I could enjoy some much-needed freedom and independence - once again!"


Travelling by train with a powered wheelchair

Whilst there have been some improvements in the accessibility of Britain's rail transport network, a 2019 report by the DfT acknowledged much more needed to be done. The report highlighted two-thirds of passengers with disabilities experienced barriers to travel. The national disability strategy noted that more than 200 train stations now have accessible, step-free routes, and there have been additional minor upgrades to more than 1500 other stations. But, this still means, only around one-fifth of the 2,500 train stations have step-free access, to and between all platforms. Unlike the railway stock itself which must be legally accessible. Given these statistics, it's clear much more work remains to do done to ensure greater levels of accessibility for disabled users on the UK train network.


Again, to highlight the various challenges disabled users face on a regular basis, Helen Dolphin, talks about a recent experience using her wheelchair on the train network, this time in the Norfolk area.


"Having only recently acquired a new powered chair, I was keen to try it out on my first train journey since restrictions were lifted due to Covid-19. I'd never actually travelled on a train with a powered wheelchair before, mainly because I had not previously been able to fit any of my other powered wheelchairs into my car.


"We'd decided to catch the train from Attleborough, which is my nearest station, to Great Yarmouth. As Attleborough is an unmanned station, I pre-booked my assistance with the train company before we got there. I did have to renew my Disabled Person's Railcard, but that also saves you and a companion a, third-off the standard ticket price. The booking system has improved significantly, and we managed to complete the booking online with no problems.


"On arrival at Attleborough station I noticed that there was a temporary car park in use, due to building work close by. This meant lots of uneven gravel tracks to contend with, as well as large puddles as it was raining quite heavily. Fortunately, my Efoldi power chair managed the terrain with no problem. Attleborough station is luckily one of the few step-free stations, and I drove up the slope to access the platform, where I then waited for my train.


Download image 

"When the train arrived, the conductor put the ramp down, and I drove straight up and onto the train. My powered wheelchair is quite compact and small, so it was nice and manoeuvrable. To get to Great Yarmouth we had to change in Norwich. As the train arrived into Norwich station, I was pleased to see someone waiting there with a ramp. For my next train to Yarmouth, the train had level-boarding, so there was no need for a ramp which makes things so easy for wheelchair users. On the train, I also decided to test out the toilet facilities. Train toilets can be notoriously small, but there was more than enough room for my wheelchair, and there was still some space to move around without any problems.

Download image 

"Despite the heavy rain, when we arrived in Yarmouth, the trip itself had been relatively smooth, and hassle free. All the assistance worked brilliantly along the way, and my wheelchair made travelling by train, quite easy. But - it is worth reemphasising the fact that only about 20% of all train stations have step-free access. So, whilst the trains themselves are, in general, fairly accessible, it's access to the train stations which very often represents the greatest challenge to wheelchair and scooter users. Most mobility scooters and wheelchairs can manage small pavement curbs or single steps, but they cannot negotiate a flight of steps. Some of the more lightweight, portable wheelchairs and scooters, like the Efoldi models, can be folded up quite easily and lifted up the steps if necessary. But other disabled travellers with less portable mobility equipment, could be excluded from using a large proportion of train stations which don't have step-free access - unless local assistance allows. It's essential, therefore, that disabled travellers always check the status of train station accessibility in advance of their journey."


Hints & Tips - Getting around:

Bus pass scheme (England)

All disabled people are eligible for free off-peak travel on English local buses. Passes are available from their local council. For more information, visit

Bus pass schemes (Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland)

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland operate independent bus pass schemes. For travel in In Wales, contact your local council for a pass, which enables disabled travellers to get around for free. Transport Scotland run a similar scheme at and requires a National Entitlement card. In Northern Ireland, the over 60's and disabled travellers can access free or half-price travel. Visit further information.

Disabled persons railcard

A concessionary railcard allowing 1/3 off most standard and first-class rail fares for those travellers with a disability. Railcards can be linked to a London Oyster card for 1/3 off Oyster pay-as-you-go single fares and daily caps. The website also has link to book assistance with individual rail

Make sure your wheelchair will fit on the train. Most trains can accommodate wheelchairs that are 700mm wide by 1200mm long. However, there are a small number of older trains that can only carry wheelchairs that have a maximum width of 550mm. If you use a mobility scooter, find out your train company's policy before you travel.

Stations made easy - National Rail

A handy website to search for any station via the "Stations and on train" page on the National Rail website. Simply click on the "Stations made easy" icon, and you can see a station floor plan with images of facilities, including platforms to help with route

Transport for London (TFL)

The TFL website provides transport accessibility information and a journey planner that allows you to find a route that suits your mobility requirements. TFL also produce a range of accessibility guides and maps.

As recognised leaders in the design of portable mobility scooters and wheelchairs, Efoldi strives to help people rediscover their freedom and independence. Their award-winning mobility solutions are not only easy to store and transport, they help make travel, simple and achievable. For more information, please call0800 138 2878or visit:

2,388 words




Contact: Tom Bulpitt


Tel:07771 182094


About eFOLDi

eFOLDi is home to the world's lightest folding mobility scooter & power chair. Recognised as leaders in the design of portable scooters and wheelchairs, eFOLDi strive to help people rediscover their freedom and independence. Their award-winning mobility solutions are not only easy to store and transport, they help make travel, simple and achievable.

Website │Twitter │Facebook │Instagram 


Biography - Helen Dolphin, MBE



Helen Dolphin, MBE is a committed campaigner on improving transport for disabled people. After becoming disabled in her early twenties Helen trained as a journalist and worked for ITV Anglia News as a news reporter. She followed this by taking up the role of Director of Policy and Campaigns for a national disabled charity. Helen now works as an independent mobility specialist advising government, public, commercial and professional bodies on how to improve accessibility. Helen is a member of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), Joint Chair of the Heathrow Access Advisory Group, a Member of the British Science Associations Equality and Diversity group and Chair of her local mobility assessment centre East Anglia Driveability (EAD).


Issued on behalf of:


25 Ormside Way,

Holmethorpe Ind. Est.

Redhill, Surrey, RH1 2LW