History of accessibility and London transport

1920 – Aftermath of World War One

The earliest records within the TfL Corporate Archives collection relating to disability date to the aftermath of the First World War, in particular the employment of returning ex-servicemen under the Kings National Roll Scheme (KNRS). Known as the ‘Honourable Obligation’ the KNRS was introduced as a voluntary system where employers were asked to pledge to employ disabled ex-servicemen as 5% of their workforce.

The scheme was certified, and enrolled employers like the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB, a TfL predecessor), could use and publish the seal of honour.

The Kings National Roll Logo – July 1936
(archive reference number: LT000304/005)

1933 to 1945 – Rehabilitation and Training

The LPTB had discussed ideas of providing ‘light’ work to employees injured at work as part of a process of rehabilitation since. A report of 1942 states:

‘it is well known that when a person sustains injury involving long periods of incapacity he tends to lose a good deal of interest in life. It is therefore desirable to remove such men from their idleness.

Lists of ‘suitable’ jobs had been identified throughout the business but in November 1939, the first adapted work environment was set up within the workshop in Chiswick to accommodate 20 men working at benches.

In this same period National Government schemes for training and resettlement were being established at Horsham and Egham with an emphasis on wellbeing, ‘sub-heath’, relaxation, socialising and collaborative training.

Roffey Park Rehabilitation Centre Horsham – 1945
(archive reference number: LT000493/068)

1937-1959 – Indemnities for Permission to Travel

Following a parliamentary question, main line and Underground railways were asked to reconsider their practice of requiring blind people and ‘invalids in chairs’ wishing to travel independently to sign an indemnity, which was a legal agreement asking the party to accept financial liability resulting from any accident.

The main line companies responded by stopping the practice in 1937 but the LPTB considered the risks greater for travelling on the Underground and they remained in use.

The first permit we can find within the permanent collection that specifically authorises unconditional travel dates from June 1959.

Indemnities for Blind Passengers and Invalids in Chairs, September 1949
(archive reference number: LT001117/054)

The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944

The 1944 Act was the first piece of legislation to provide a definition for the term ‘disabled person.’

The Act set out a requirement for a register of disabled persons and a quota for companies employing more than 20 people to employ disabled persons as a ‘standard percentageโ€™ of their workforce, initially set at 2% and later extended to 3%.

It also enshrined the rights of the individual to choose whether they registered as disabled.

Extract from a report to the Board outlining the main requirements of the Disability Act 1944 – 7 March 1946
(archive reference number: LT000304/274)

1973 – Learning to use the network

This article published in our staff magazine in 1973 outlines how blind children from the Linden Lodge in South London had to learn to navigate the transport system. They were supported by tools provided by the school, including a braille tube map and transport guides.

The article includes a passage on a familiarisation session on the local bus service when it moved to ‘One Man Operation’, meaning there was no longer a conductor on board as well as the driver.

Blind children get travel test on our buses and trains – January 1973
(archive reference number: LT000030/052 page 147)

1981 – International Year of Disabled Persons

The United Nationals proclaimed that 1981 would be the International Year of Disabled Persons.

London Transport marked the year with a publicity campaign and a series of 4 seminars engaging with disability groups to identify barriers and evaluate possible design solutions for bus and train accessibility.

The initial product of these seminars was the updating of a accessible guide to the network.

Air ace launches rail guide for disabled – 23 April 1982
(archive ref num: LT000030/057 page 140)

1984 – The Unit for Disabled Passengers

The Unit for Disabled Passengers was set up in 1984 to coordinate initiatives aimed at making London Transport more accessible.

Summary of work of The Unit for Disabled Passengers – 1988
(archive reference number: LT000153/010 page 2)

Circa 1986

Tactile diagram of The Central London Underground (Zone 1), produced for London Transport by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Whilst well-received, it proved too expensive to update and reproduce.

Tactile Underground Map of Zone 1 – c.1986
(archive reference number: LT000966/021)

August 1991 – Making stations more accessible

Launch of the first handbook of London Undergroundโ€™s requirements for making stations more accessible, a precursor to the current Station Planning Standard.

Making Stations More Accessible – August 1991
(archive reference number: LT000883/001)

1 October 1993 – Wheelchairs get Tube Go Ahead

London Underground’s conditions of carriage changed on 1 October 1993 permitting wheelchair access to ‘deep level’ tubes for the first time.

October image from 1993 The Year in Focus – 16 December 1993
(archive reference number: LT000030/63 page 73)

1994 – The introduction of ‘kneeling’ buses

The 1980s are full of adaptations to buses which incrementally improve accessibility: including lowering steps, widening doors, increasing the number of handrails, priority seating signage and route indicators.

In 1993 the first ‘kneeling’ buses are trialled on the network for release in January 1994.

Delivery of the first 68 new low floor Pathfinder 320 buses – 28 October 1993
(archive reference number: LT000030/63 page 58)

2005 – Establishment of the Staff Network Group for Disability

The Staff Network Group for Disability was formed with the aim of providing an independent forum for disabled colleagues and to help encourage everyone in TfL to consider the needs of colleagues living with one or more disabilities.

Group picture of TfL staff raising the purple flag for International Day of People With Disabilities
(archive reference number: AD_UNCAT/31)

About these records

Story compiled from information in records at the Transport for London Corporate Archives.

The Corporate Archives seeks to preserve and make accessible records, not to interpret them. A wider range of material is available for physical consultation.

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