The everyday travel of older disabled Londoners
: mobility and wellbeing in an urban environment

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Everyday travel is important for allowing people to access resources, opportunities, and social support, as well as to engage in physical activity and experience wellbeing. Facilitating mobility for older people is subsequently an important means of addressing social determinants of health and creating age-friendly cities. This thesis explores the different types of mobility enacted by older disabled Londoners, and the implications these have for their wellbeing and social inclusion. I consider both older disabled Londoners’ everyday travel outside of the home as well as the types of mobility they perform which are not contingent upon physical locomotion. I analyse travel diary data to examine the factors associated with reduced propensity to leave the house on a given day (non-travel). Age was found to be the strongest predictor of non-travel and operated independently from disability and employment status, although travel concessions mitigated this effect. Using interview data, I then explore the experience of non-travel by examining the ‘non-corporeal’ mobility practices of older disabled Londoners. ‘Experientially transportive’ practices like gaming and reading provide older adults with the resources to deflect the stigma of sedentarism and maintain mobile selfhoods despite reduced corporeal mobility. This fosters some aspects of wellbeing, thus problematising assumptions that ‘non-travel’ is inevitably detrimental to wellbeing. Using data from go-alongs and interviews, I then explicate the broader role outdoor mobility plays in older disabled Londoners’ lives and wellbeing through exploring the symbolic connotations of ‘going out’. After this, I turn my focus to the challenges older disabled Londoners face in in corporeally navigating urban spaces. Managing the barriers posed by built and social environments involves contingent and fragile processes, requiring accommodation between the body and its milieu. I describe the tactics and techniques participants develop to deal with these barriers, and how being mobile is experienced in a city still bearing the legacy of a disregard for accessibility and inclusiveness. Finally, I draw on interviews and observation involving transport staff and older disabled people to investigate how older people’s sense of independence is negotiated when transport staff provide them assistance. I argue that a Bourdieusian framework is appropriate for understanding the importance of independence in later life and, after demonstrating the inherently contingent and interdependent nature of mobility, posit that our understandings of independence and dependence comprise part of a system of symbolic domination which marginalises older and disabled people.
Date of Award1 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJudith Green (Supervisor)

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