When most of us think of a mobility aid we imagine a scooter, wheelchair, cane, or a variation of a walking aid. However, another widely used mobility are bicycles. Many of us assume that a disabled individual would have physical restrictions that make them unable to use a bike or trike, but they are invaluable to many. However, due to this assumption, there is a lack of appropriate assistance and infrastructure to help disabled cyclists.
Why Cycling is an Invaluable Mobility Aid
Although it’s assumed that cycling would not be possible for many disabled individuals, in reality it can be much easier than walking with a cane or frame. Obviously, for those with lower body paralysis it’s not possible – at least with traditional pedals – but for people who still have some lower body function it’s an excellent option. The action of cycling actually reduces the amount of impact placed on the joints, making it not only faster and more efficient, but less physically strenuous.
Additionally, the range of pedalled powered vehicles mean there’s options to choose from depending on a person’s physical capabilities. Beyond the traditional bicycle, there are also sit-down tricycles that require less core strength and balance, as well as rarer four-wheeled varieties. In comparison to a walking aids these vehicles are far more enjoyable to use and also provide valuable physical activity that isn’t available with mobility scooters.
What Challenges Do Disabled Cyclists Face?
Any cyclist, regardless of their level of physical ability, will tell you it can be challenging to safely and easily travel in public spaces. Scarcity of cycle lanes, aggressive drivers, and outdated infrastructure are the most common obstacles. However, with the added obstacle of a disability these problems are often exacerbated and added to.
For example, cycle lanes are one of the most commonly criticised areas of cycling infrastructure. Not only aren’t their enough in crucial areas, but even those that do exist are often poorly thought out and are obstructed by objects. However, for many disabled cyclists another issue presents itself. For those who use trikes the width of many cycle lanes make travel even more difficult. Navigating other users and foot pedestrians who stray into the lane is far more difficult than simply swerving past. Not only could this result in a collision or unintentionally exiting the lane, but it can also result in a loss of valuable momentum, requiring the user to get back up to speed.
In addition to the lack of space, the need to dismount at certain points is also a big issue. The presence of curbs is one difficulty that able-bodied cyclists will find effortless to overcome, but for disabled cyclists – even those on traditional bicycles – the physical effort needed is more substantial. There is also the need to dismount in certain areas such as bus and train stations. Despite being as important a mobility aid as a scooter or wheelchair, disabled cyclists may still be required to dismount as their vehicle of choice is viewed as an ordinary bicycle. For many users, this simply may not be possible.
Are There Realistic Solutions?
Unsurprisingly, there are obstacles that stop the updating of disabled friendly infrastructure in its tracks. This can be down to a lack of practical space, potential disruption during construction, finances, and even a lack of awareness and consideration for those who need better facilities. This last reason certainly seems to be particularly likely in the case of disabled cyclists. The assumptions of the abilities of disabled individuals has led to cyclists being overlooked to the point where most of us are oblivious to their presence. A greater level of consideration could start to make a difference.