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An excellent awareness campaign for disability parking

Wheelchair accessible accommodation: a matter of interpretation

I’m beginning to think the words “accessible accommodation” could just as easily be “flying pigs”. Finding accommodation suitable for someone in a wheelchair shouldn’t be so difficult! For our recent trip, I searched the web for places to stay. After finding very little, I co-opted my mother in the search and she too trawled the internet. Well, I can report that our trip was a mix of the splendidly accessible and the ‘tried but didn’t quite make it.’ I suppose I should give credit where credit is due. There are many motels in Australia who have not even tried to alter their rooms to make them wheelchair friendly. So I give the motel we stayed in an A for effort – at least they had a go.

In an attempt to turn some frustration, into some humour, here’s a little guide for how to make an ‘accessible’ room, just a little more entertaining.

Step 1: Put your bed on castors

Most beds come on castors. I’m guessing that many of them must have a locking mechanism. If you want to add some spice to the life of your disabled guests, don’t put the locks on. People with limited movement really LOVE when the thing they are trying to transfer from travels across the room. It makes the task so much more exciting. Perhaps you could add some fake screams so it really feels like a fun park.

Step 2: Make them be spiderman

Bed rails are for wusses! On this trip, I discovered Andrew does an exceptionally good spiderman. His ability to use the wall to ‘climb up’ off the aforementioned super sliding bed is positively jaw-dropping. I’m thinking that next time I should find a room which just has the bed in the middle of the room and see what magic trick he can perform then.

Step 3: If something is available, put it somewhere else

This one is my favourite. Walk into bathroom. Sign on wall says ‘if you require a shower chair, please ask at reception.’ Umm… the reception which had a step to get inside?

A similar story in South Kempsey park. Right beneath the sign which said ‘Please enjoy our park but be aware that this is a high crime area’ was another one which advised the key to the disabled toilet could be obtained from the visitor centre. I wish I could take a photo of Andrew’s face after he had pushed up the path to the bathroom only to be thwarted at the end. (This little helper went to collect the key to save him the effort of another push).

However, my favourite in this category is not an experience I had but one Andrew’s dad told me about. When he asked once at a motel whether they had a shower chair, he was told there were some plastic chairs out in the BBQ and pool area he could use. Hmm… I’m sure they would be high tech non-slip!

Step 4: Assume your guests can teleport themselves

We stayed in one hotel where the guests must certainly have teleporting powers. I’m not sure how else a person in a wheelchair with no capacity to stand was going to get in the shower. It had a full shower screen; a door which wasn’t even the full width of the shower; a one inch metal hob and besides the main rail holding up the shower head, no rails. In our case, it was actually ok as Andrew had enough mobility to manage this but I was appalled. If this had been the little country motel which had modified its existing room, perhaps I would have been a little less shocked. Instead it was in a major city, in a new building by a major hotel chain owned by one of Australia’s richest men. Surely, they could have got some decent advice about an accessible shower. If guests did teleport themselves in there, perhaps they levitated as well given there was nothing to hang on to!

Step 5: Add a few annoyances for everyone

Lastly, it seems you don’t need to be disabled to enjoy some motel madness. I like when you are provided with a kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee. Very courteous and thoughtful. If only the one sink in the room was deep enough you could get the kettle in it to fill it up. Once you’ve done a conjuring trick getting the water into the kettle, you get to play with the most ridiculous milk packaging of all time. You know those single serve long life things? About the width of a coin and the same in depth, they contain enough milk to ‘muddy’ your coffee. That’s of course if you can peel back the lid without losing the contents. In the end, we resorted to stabbing them with a knife. Just don’t be craving a latte, ok?

The problem with disabled parking

No bikes on Bondi BeachIn Bondi, signage has a mysterious quality. It is there. You need not pay any attention to it though.

Take for example the photograph to the left. I couldn’t resist shooting a pic of the no bicycle sign with not one, but two bikes attached to the bottom. Only in Australia!

The second example was not quite as funny. Andrew and I were trawling the carpark for a space. There were a number of standard parks available, however Andrew needs to use either the wider wheelchair park (so he can get the chair beside the car) or one on the end where no one can park him in.

Finally we located two wide parking spaces reserved for people with a disability. One was taken, the other was thankfully free. As we pulled in we both noticed the guy parked in the first disabled space. He was standing beside his SUV putting on a wetsuit.

Now that’s ok, you don’t have to have ‘faulty’ legs to qualify for a disabled car space. You can be capable of standing. You could have a lung problem limiting the distance you can walk; or something else not immediately apparent to the eye.

I said to Andrew as we pulled into the space next to it… ‘leave it, I think he has a permit.’ (Andrew had vowed long ago never to get into a stoush with anyone sporting a permit… no matter how sporting they looked).

My words were too late. The guy was putting on that wetsuit with just a little too much athleticism. Andrew piped up: ‘Hey mate, you know you’re parked in a disabled spot? Do you have a permit?’ A simple yes would have sufficed.

He didn’t go the simple route.

Instead, he started to rant ‘What’s it to you? You better watch the way you talk to people; it’s none of your business where I park… What are you complaining about? You got a park. And yeah, I’ve got a permit’

There was no denying it. Andrew was rankled. His ire had been pricked.

It was maddening to watch this guy continue to put on his wetsuit, pick up his surfboard and run a few hundred metres down the beach.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt however in this case, I remain convinced that it certainly wasn’t his permit, which really annoys me. Actually that’s a bit tame. It quite frankly, pisses me off.

We did proceed to have a fantastic night on the promenade taking photographs; once the steam coming out of Andrew’s ears subsided that is. I thought I was over it too. Then I came home last night to see that Andrew had posted his frustration on his facebook page. A number of his friends – some disabled, some not – joined in his rant. This only ruffled my annoyance once more. Indeed so much so that I spent a good half hour reading government websites about how to make complaints about people exploiting the system. (Apparently I can order some government sponsored flyers which say something like ‘being lazy is not a disability.’ Hmm… yeah, the flyer on the windscreen is going to make a great deal of difference. Unless, it comes with a very strong adhesive so they have the message permanently planted across the window.)

If they had a permit, would I want to stick a flyer under their wiper? I’d find that tough. What if they genuinely needed the space and I’d judged them too quickly? I feel for those who have been heckled because they don’t have a wheelchair, a cane or crutches. They could have only have 20% of their lungs working. (If that were the case I doubt they’d be running down the beach with their surfboard though). But I also know – ok, suspect – that the number of people using someone else’s permit is plentiful. Perhaps I should make my own signs.

‘Your permit is for the cripple; don’t leave home without him!’

Ok, I think I’ve got that out of my system not. Anger is a short madness. Well at least according to Horace it is.

Here’s a photograph I took on the way to Bondi – before the incident – I only wish ‘love’ had stayed in the air.
Love in Bondi

Flip, the politically incorrect

I have a flaw. Sometimes I open my mouth before the words pass my brain. I am sometimes brutally honest. I remember one day at work sitting in a meeting with a woman who didn’t shut up. She spoke at light speed and barely paused to draw breath. It was nigh impossible to get a word in that conversation. Strangely we were discussing a campaign which had at it’s heart, symbolic silence. The woman went on and on about which celebrity we could get involved; who we could get to be silent and who would pay to see those people be silent. In one of my classic moments of non-thinking, I said something along the lines of ‘can we silence you?’

At that point everyone laughed and I turned bright red. Later, people said to me, ‘you said what everyone was thinking but was not going to say.’ I can thank my mum for this brutal honesty. Unfortunately, I don’t see it as such until it escapes and I cannot gather the words back up and put them back in my mouth.

A lot of the time, people are taken aback. It certainly gets you a reputation. Yet sometimes, people welcome this refreshing honesty. Years ago when I was working for a blindness agency we had a new staff member start. I don’t remember what I said to him on his first day. About a year later, he reminded me. He said, I’ll never forget one of the first things you said:

Blind people are like everyone else. Some are nice. Some are arseholes.

He reminded me and told me that he had found that to be true.

What sparked this moment of self-reflection on my flaws? Well I was reading a post by Todd Winther called ‘You want to win an oscar? Play a (real) cripple.‘ I had a strong reaction to it. His argument is that if you play a person with a disability, you’ll win an Oscar… or perhaps it’s that if you’re nominated for an Oscar and the character you played has a disability, you’ll win. Either way, I found myself annoyed. I felt that this argument belitted the performances given by the respective actors. After watching Geoffrey Rush in Shine, did I think to myself, yes he won an Oscar because David Helfgott had a nervous breakdown? It didn’t cross my mind. I thought it was just a bloody good performance.

On reflection, I probably say things which are equally cynical, or at the very least, repeat them – such as Andrew’s claim that The Gap (a Sydney suicide hot spot) is discriminating against people who are disabled as there is no ramp to ‘launch’ oneself from. Yet, I’d like to think the difference is when Andrew does it it’s funny (in a black humoured kind of way). Hmm… not that I’ve got all hot under the collar over nothing, perhaps it’s time to call it a night.

At least if I decide that I’ve had one of my moments of exceptional bluntness, there’s always a delete button on a blog; unlike what comes out of mouth!


Inventions and disability

Graeme Innes, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner has written an excellent – funny – article over at ABC’s ramp up about the innovations we have – thanks to people with disabilities.

I have witnessed first hand how ingenius people with a disability can be – and learnt a few things along the way. Thanks to a person with a disability, I know that a skateboard is an essential item to have for moving furniture with ease. I know that a walking stick can also be a ‘curtain closer’, and object lifter and my favourite of all – an arm extension to drive your mouse. Yes, I have witnessed someone use the end of a walking stick, held across the room, to push the computer mouse, to navigate to the top menus and select shut down on a computer.

While Graeme is detailing the inventiveness of those with, and those helping people with, disabilities, he is also demonstrating another great quality many disabled people have – a brilliant sense of humour. My favourite example of this harks back to when I worked at Royal Blind Society and actually I think Graeme may even have been chairman at the time. A person phoned in and wanted to know if there were any advantages in being blind. We asked around the office and one of my colleagues quickly replied ‘you never have to be designated driver.’

But seriously for a moment, Graeme has some serious points. Having a disability is expensive. I’m sure that most people are not aware that you can buy many second hand cars cheaper than a new wheelchair. Adaptive technology for computers also comes with a hefty price tag. You name the disability and there seems to be an associated – and large – cost. What is to be done about this? I like Graeme’s conclusion:

What shall we do?

Go on hunger strike like Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption campaigner in India? Not me; I like my tucker too much.

Withdraw our labour? Well that won’t work; half of us don’t have a job.

Blockade our parliaments? Umm, that could be a problem; many of us can’t get in because there is limited physical access.

No, bugger it. We’ll just take back our inventions. No phones, no clicking lights, no ramps. Let’s see how society functions without them.