Laura Hamilton ’07 travelled to London this summer as a tourist. She ended up speaking to the British parliament and urged lawmakers to improve access to London’s public transportation system for disabled riders.
In a city famous for its double-decker buses and the world’s oldest metro system, Hamilton was stranded again and again by blocked bus ramps and broken Underground elevators. Bus drivers ignored her and drove past. One Thames ferryboat operator refused to allow her scooter on board, as she returned from watching the Paralympic Games.
“London is my favorite city in the entire world for many reasons, most of all because Londoners have always been amazingly kind and helpful to a girl in a scooter,” said Hamilton, who has muscular dystrophy. “For this reason, I cannot comprehend the complete social breakdown that occurs when I try to board public transit.”
Hamilton and her husband left behind their jobs in San Francisco for a six-month stay in England’s capital city. It didn’t take long before she was recording her bad experiences with London’s public transit and posting them on YouTube. Things took off when she volunteered with the nonprofit Transport for All, and the media took notice. A series of articles in the British press and attention from lawmakers spurred noticeable improvements, including a Mobility Aid card that identifies what types of wheelchairs and scooters are given priority on public transit.
Hamilton credits her passion for civil rights to the values she learned at USF and says one class in particular gave her the courage she needed to speak before Parliament: Business Law with adjunct professor David Griffis ’89, JD ’92.
“He taught me the great power that comes from understanding the law and your rights as an individual,” Hamilton said. “The law isn’t always enough on its own. Sometimes, it takes someone to get involved.”