UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


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Work in Progress Seminar - Raquel Velho - "They're in charge, but you're in control": how wheelchair users shape London's public transport

Start: Jan 19, 2017 4:30:00 PM
End: Jan 19, 2017 6:00:00 PM

Public transport in London is a behemoth of an infrastructure, including over 400km of underground tracks and a fleet of 8000 buses, totalling over 3.7 billion annual journeys. It also has a rich, 153-year history that turned it into a symbol of the English capital. While there has been scholarly work on infrastructures more generally, it has often focused on their moments of inception, and little has been said about user groups left at the margins and their impact on the network over time. Using the case of wheelchair users and transport in London, this presentation highlights the experience of a marginalised group to investigate how they embed (some of) their needs into the network despite struggles with accessibility.

This talk has two main arguments. The first contends that the barriers faced by wheelchair users in transport are the result of infrastructural stabilisation that occurred in a period of social segregation (1850s-1950s). This will be discussed through a brief history of the transport network in London, using illustrative examples of the difficulties still faced by wheelchair users today. However, it would be premature to end our story there, as infrastructures can gradually change. The second argument therefore holds that wheelchair users, despite segregation and exclusion, have taken an active role in the process of shaping the transport system in London. In this role, they have developed inclusion mechanisms through collective and political activism, as well as on an individual ad-hoc level.

This project places the experiences of wheelchair users at the forefront of academic research. In doing so, it shows their engagement with and impact on transport infrastructure, but also deconstructs the commonly held assumption that disabled people are passive members of society.