Woman becomes first wheelchair user to climb the Monument

Woman becomes first wheelchair user to climb the Monument
credit Revel Dixon

A woman has become the first wheelchair user to climb the Monument to the Great Fire of London.

Anahita Harding climbed up the 311-step landmark using just her arms to highlight just how hard it is for disabled people to escape buildings.

The artist, 30, previously had to take action into her own hands when a building she was in was evacuated after a kitchen fire.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Usually my friends, if they are around, will wait with me but that is not an ideal situation. I had a time in the past when a friend carried my wheelchair down and I had to move down the stairs using my arms, which is usually really difficult to do.

She added: “That’s the only way to leave the building. It’s quite scary.”

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Anahita is also regularly put off traveling into Central London from her home in Lewisham because it is so hard for her to travel on public transport as a wheelchair user.

She explained: “I had an incident at Lewisham Station where I fell between the train and the platform. It’s a really bad station for accessibility.

“It usually takes one or two days [to book a ramp] and even then they don’t always come. Usually, I will travel with someone as I expect that to happen.”

The south Londoner added that her friend and a kind passenger will often have to pick her up in her wheelchair to help her get off the train.

Often Anahita will face issues at London Bridge Station and if the lift is broken she will be sent to another stop or face being trapped on the platform.

Anahita’s options to travel into Central London can often be really limited. Either she can take the bus and face a long journey or try and book a cab, which can be expensive.

Even getting an accessible taxi has proven hard for Anahita. She said: “I try to book an Uber but they do not always have an accessible one. There are just usually two of them in London. They are often fully booked.”

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credit Norman Mine

To climb the Monument Anahita spent three hours pushing herself up and down its famous spiral staircase, stopping for a rest at the top on January 27.

To reach the top she had to pull herself up onto each step and having to shuffle aside when passers-by came up the tower.

Many encouraged her to keep going and several members of the monument’s staff accompanied her. Anahita completed the climb as part of an art performance named STEPS.

A spokesperson for the Leaseholder Disability Action Group said: “While we clearly welcome the innovation of STEPS, the fact that such a demonstration of disabled struggle is needed, in fighting for evacuation plans, is a sad and disturbing reflection on our society.

“No doubt we’ll have strong mixed emotions on viewing, but we hope that it will make people think and question this inequality. STEPS epitomises our slogan, ‘Let Everyone Escape.’ That is all we ask.”

National Rail told the Local Democracy Reporting Service there is just one lift per platform at London Bridge. Lifts on platform 8 and platform 9 have recently been having issues and National Rail is currently trying to fix them.

South Eastern Rail told the LDRS customers are able to book a ramp two hours in advance and they will always provide assistance whether someone has booked or not.

An Uber spokesperson said: “Ensuring that the Uber platform is accessible for all riders is a key priority for us.

“Uber Access is our forward-facing wheelchair-accessible product available in London and cities across the country. Drivers providing these services are specially trained with trips costing no more than a standard UberX fare.”

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