A great visit to the Olympics, but disabled access needs improving

3 Aug

We had a brilliant visit to the Olympic athletics this morning, but I wish it had not been let down by the very poor arrangements for disabled visitors. Each person we spoke to was very helpful, but there seemed to be no joined-up plan to enable people with impaired mobility to travel to and from the venues.

My 91 year old father really enjoyed the athletics at the 1948 Olympics in London, so he asked me to get tickets and take him again this year. I was lucky enough to get four tickets for the morning session on Friday 3rd August and arranged to take two of my adult children as well as my father. We were all really looking forward to this family outing.

My dad can only walk a short distance and would not have been able to manage the tube journey, so we booked a disabled parking space. The instructions for the parking space seemed clear, they said exactly which roads to use to get to the car park and included a tear off section to allow us to board a shuttle bus to get into the venue. I didn’t completely understand the instructions for the shuttle bus so I called the phone number printed on the car park ticket to ask about this. The person who answered explained that there was no shuttle bus from the disabled parking, only from Stratford Station. This didn’t make any sense at all, but I assumed that they had made a mistake and that it would be obvious where to go when we arrived.

It would normally take about 20 minutes to drive from our house to Stratford, but we left at 06:45 to make sure we would be in plenty of time for the 10:00 start. The instructions for the car park explained how to get there from the A12, which was the obvious road to take for this journey. When we arrived at the A12 the slip road was closed, because of the Olympics, so we had to go on a much longer and slower route. As we drove through Stratford looking for the car park there were no signs for the disabled parking, and the routes suggested by my GPS were no use because they involved using Olympic lanes or turning right across them at temporary Olympic no right turn signs. We drove right through Stratford, turned round on the other side and drove back again, eventually finding a sign that matched the instructions we had.

We were stopped at a check point where the car was carefully examined, inside and out, by soldiers who were very friendly and polite. They then directed us toward the car park. We parked in one of the clearly marked bays, near another car where people with mobility problems were parking. We all tried to find how to get from the car park to the Olympic stadium. There were no signs anywhere to be seen, we rode up and down in the lift looking on various floors until we found some Westfield staff with wheelchairs who offered to help us. The Westfield staff explained that they weren’t allowed to push the wheelchairs, but that they would come with to show us which way to go. My daughter offered to push one of the wheelchairs as there would not have been enough people to push the three wheelchairs that were travelling together by then.

The next part of our journey involved a very long walk, up in a lift, across a bridge that led away from the Olympic park towards Stratford Station, down another lift, into the station against the flow of people arriving at the Olympics, and up another lift to an incredibly crowded part of the station. The Westfield staff decided that it was not safe to manoeuvre three wheelchairs through the crowd, so they asked two of us to wait and led the wheelchairs across the station one at a time to another lift, where we descended to ground level again. This took quite a long time, but eventually we reached another part of the station concourse where there were shuttle busses to help disabled people get into the Olympic park. The Westfield staff took their wheelchairs back, presumably to look for other lost travellers near the disabled car park.

It took quite a long time to load the bus, but everyone was very polite and friendly. The bus then drove out of the station and back through Stratford on the road we had driven down more than an hour earlier. It was quite a long drive, and the bus had to pass through another security checkpoint, where the polite and friendly soldiers again checked the vehicle inside and out; they had mirrors on sticks, and some very cute dogs that were presumably sniffing for explosives, and the check did not take too long.

The bus drove past the outside of the car park where we waved to the cars we had parked earlier and then stopped not too far away, fairly near the entrance to the Olympic park. We asked if there was a wheelchair available that we could use to take my dad on the next part of the journey, but we were told that we would have to go and queue in the “mobility centre” and that this would be quite a long queue. We decided that my dad could manage the walk to the park entrance as it looked like it was only about 100 meters. We walked to the Olympic park entrance and joined the queue for the security checks. The queue for security was very quick and efficient, and they only took my dad’s walking stick away for a few minutes while he walked through the metal detector.

Once we were through security we found some helpful staff who provided a wheelchair, and helped us get inside the Olympic park, where they dropped us by the stop for the spectator mobility shuttle. The shuttle arrived shortly after we did. It was a bit like an oversized golf buggy, and it took us on a long trip around the park. We did see gate C, where we needed to go, but the bus turned the other way and it was a long time before we arrived at the correct entrance. After we got off the shuttle we again found somebody with a wheelchair to help us on the next stage of the trek.

We went into the stadium area, where our tickets were checked, and I asked where I could find drinking water to fill the empty water bottles we had brought through the security check. Since the queue for water seemed very long, I asked my daughter to accompany my dad and the wheelchair, whilst my son and I went to queue up and fill the water bottles.

It took 20 or 30 minutes to fill the water bottles, and I then found the right stairs for block 249 where our seats were located. We did have fairly cheap tickets, so I wasn’t too surprised that I had to climb a lot of stairs to get to the top of the stadium, but I was surprised when I got to our seats and found that my dad and my daughter had not arrived yet. I was just starting to phone my daughter when I saw my dad struggling up the last few steps inside the stadium.

After a long pause to catch his breath, my dad explained that they had been escorted to a lift on one side of the stadium, but that this did not provide access to our seats, so they were escorted down again and taken right round the stadium and up a lift on the other side which proved no more helpful, so the person with the wheelchair had explained that my dad would have to climb the stairs. It had been extremely difficult for him to climb the 5 or 6 flights of stairs and he was now exhausted, but we did get to our seats by 09:45 with 15 minutes to spare before the start of the event.

The athletics was really good, and we all had a great time. There were lots of different events going on, often at the same time, and the big screens and commentators provided all the information we could want. The arrangements and logistics seemed to be very efficient, and we left the stadium at about 1:45, tired but happy.

When we left the stadium we talked to the staff and asked if there was a sensible way that we could get back to the disabled parking area, but apparently there was not. Despite our best efforts to avoid another trek we had a nightmare journey back to the car, and arrived home again after 5 PM.

Clearly some effort was made to provide access for people with mobility problems. Disabled parking was available. Wheelchairs were provided at each location where they might be needed. There was a shuttle bus from the station to the Olympic park. There was a spectator mobility shuttle for transporting people between venues within the park. All that was missing was a joined up plan that would have helped people get from the disabled parking to their seats in the wonderful new athletic stadium.


8 Responses to “A great visit to the Olympics, but disabled access needs improving”

  1. Jenny Bloom August 5, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Stuart I don’t know what to say!! Bits of this remind me of Catch 22! Lots of love to Ben, I am just relieved my parents didn’t express an interest in going.

    How reassuring that the security guys only took Ben’s walking stick away for a few minutes while he walked through the metal detector…

    • stuartrance August 6, 2012 at 9:14 am #


      We really did have a great time. The blog only describes the journey, but we spent hours in the stadium watching the athletics and enjoying the atmosphere. It couldn’t have been better and on balance I am really glad that we went.

  2. Juliet August 8, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Was it really that bad. We are going on Friday and all the maps say the slip road is open. Did it have cones across it? or was it just a games lane – all help gratefully received as I am v concerned as I don’t know the area very well. Thanks Juliet

    • Stuart Rance August 9, 2012 at 1:19 am #

      Juliet, it was bad for a person with limited mobility, but I have travelled to other events with able bodied people and everything was very easy. I would recommend going on public transport if at all possible.

      The slip road onto the A12 from the Green Man roundabout in Leytonstone was closed off with cones at about 7 am last Friday morning. I don’t think it is shut all the time.

      • Juliet August 9, 2012 at 9:24 am #

        Thanks- I’m limited mobility so want to make sure that I can get in where the map tells us. COming from out of town so public transport is a diffiuclt option. Have conflicting info on web – saying slip road at bow interchange is clsoed, but map that came with disbaled permit says to go down there! Hoping if it’s coned off there may be someone there to let us in

  3. Stuart Rance August 9, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Good luck with your travel. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time at the events. Please post something here to let us know how your day went.

    The most important advice I can offer you is to allow plenty of time, and then add a bit more. There’s lots to see at the Olympic Park so you won’t get bored if you’re too early.

  4. lewiepsmummy August 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    I’m mobility impaired and I used the Stratford station entrance. This station is supposed to be fully accessible, but there was a step down from the tube train to the platform – good job I use sticks and not a wheelchair to get around. The accessible bus by the exit had 3 steps to get on it or I could have used the tail lift. We were taken to the golf buggy pick up point, when it arrived there was a high step up onto it to sit down. When we arrived at the stadium there were 7 steps to walk down to our accessible seating, and there were people sitting in our seats! It took a while to move them. We really enjoyed the Opening Ceremony, but going home was dreadful – when we left the stadium after walking back up the 7 steps there was no buggy driver to drive the buggy, chaotic organisation and my son eventually found a very helpful gamesmaker who pushed me in a wheelchair back to the not very accessible bus that then took us back to the station. Getting off at Mile End I then had to struggle up 4 flights of stairs. That was the hardest part! Accessible London? Not really.

    • Stuart Rance August 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

      I think it is a great pity that they haven’t got this quite right, because they have clearly tried.

      1. Every one of the games makers and security guards really went out of their way to be helpful
      2. They did provide wheelchairs in many locations, and a “mobility shuttle” which very nearly connected to each other

      Sadly this was not enough, but I do think they could have fixed it with a bit more imagination and planning.

      As for the accessibility of the tube. It is somewhat better this Summer than usual, but it really isn’t suitable for people with mobility problems. Very few stations have step free access, and even the ones where you can get to or from the platform have limitations.

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