Disabled? Don’t Plan On Driving to the 2012 London Olympics

This post has been edited with updated information.

Here’s a completely bizarre policy move for you: Planners of the 2012 London Olympics announced today that a request to allow disabled ticket holders to use the games lanes set aside for athletes and dignitaries will be turned down. 100 miles (161 kilometers, if you must) of roads are being set up with a prioritised scheme to move official Olympics traffic along1, and disabled drivers don’t get to use any of those, although they might have benefited from the accommodation, avoiding the stress of traffic or inaccessible public transit.

The reason?

…it would not be possible to distinguish between bona fide ticket holders and disabled drivers using the lanes illegally.

That’s right. Because there’s a possibility that a person with a blue badge might use one of the games lanes without necessarily holding a ticket to the games, the organisers have decided to just go ahead and bar all blue badge holders from the lanes. This reminds me of a lot of the ‘fraud prevention’ policies when it comes to disability benefits; everyone’s got a passel of stories about ‘benefits cheats’ or people who use placards without ‘really’ being disabled, and thinks governments ought to move the earth to prevent even one person from falsely claiming benefits, even if the expenses of programmes aimed at addressing fraud far outweigh the payouts in terms of catching people.

We talk about placard panic here a lot, and there’s a reason for it. The media likes to devote utterly absurd amounts of attention to the idea that there are scores of people out there using disabled placards to get away with sneaky sneaky things, like parking closer to the grocery store. There seems to be a very common assumption that a car with placards should be viewed with suspicion because the driver is faking or someone is using placards for a family member of any number of other things, and the level of parking and driving policing that goes on in the media while ignoring other stories of far more importance and relevance is pretty breathtaking. This, of course, reinforces social attitudes and encourages media consumers to also get involved with placard policing.

It’s things like that that lead to decisions like this, where out of fear that a handful of people might abuse their disabled placards to take advantage of the dedicated lanes, people decide to just bar all disabled drivers from those lines after a reasonable request for accommodation. Including, I’m assuming people attending and competing in the Paralympic games, if the policy about the games lanes is taken to its logical conclusion. Which is, uh. Yeah. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Caroline Pidgeon, quoted in this article, puts it well:

When less than one in four Tube stations is wheelchair accessible it is appalling that the ODA have ruled out such a modest proposal.

So, basically, what organisers here are really saying is that they think disabled people shouldn’t bother attending the Olympics. For some people interested in attending, I’m sure that getting to various events was a concern, and being able to use the games lanes would have made it easier and more possible. Have an interest in sports? Too bad. Your kind are not wanted here. Which is interesting, since the organisers have indicated they are interested in accessibility issues; for example, there’s a discussion about making volunteering accessible, and their website has an accessibility statement. I guess accommodations only go so far, eh?

Methinks either the right hand knoweth not what the left hand is doing or someone has some seriously confused priorities.

  1. I would note that Londoners are already not very stoked with this idea; congestion is a serious problem in the city and many people are concerned that the Olympics will make it functionally impossible for people who actually live and work in London to go about their business. This has been a problem for other Olympic hosts, as has the very high cost of costing compared to limited returns, but that’s a different kettle of fish.

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s.e. smith is a recalcitrant, grumpy person with disabilities who enjoys riling people up, talking about language, tearing apart poor science reporting, and chasing cats around the house with squeaky mice in hand. Ou personal website can be found at this ain't livin'.

4 thoughts on “Disabled? Don’t Plan On Driving to the 2012 London Olympics

  1. Am I not understanding something? I don’t see how it is any harder to distinguish between whether a driver has an Olympic ticket or not, by looking at the disabled placard on their car.

  2. That was one of my questions, ADHD PHD! I assume ticket holders are issued with things to put on the dashboard or something and I suspect there’s a part of this story I’m not getting that one of our UK readers can fill us in on; most of the news stories I found were really vague.

  3. Whoever wrote this story has got their facts all mixed up. There was never any plan to allow disabled ticket-holders to use the lanes – they are for athletes and dignitaries only, to get people from accommodation to competition venues and covers only a few major routes in central and east London. It does not mean that they are “banned from driving to the Olympics” – they just have to drive with the other traffic or use other routes.

    London already has bus lanes, which are also open to taxis, bicycles and (sometimes) motorcycles and heavy goods vehicles, but I have never seen a special lane that is open to disabled drivers.

  4. Actually I linked to multiple stories here, so ‘whoever wrote these stories’ might be more appropriate. What do you think happened here in terms of news reporting? A number of UK news outlets are reporting this in a form that seems to suggest some sort of proposal for disabled drivers was presented (possibly to allow disabled ticket holders to use the games lanes rather than traveling on public roads? This was unclear to me), and that it was shot down. I am well aware that people can take alternate routes to get to the games, but the slant here seems to be that an accommodation allowing people to spend less time in the car was presented as an option and then discarded, which sounds rather exclusionary to me.

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