Category Archives: Disability/Amputees

AS I SEE IT….. A question of access ??

“Hard things are put in our way, not to stop us, but to call out our courage and strength.” – Anon: Boat

I have just returned from 10 days in New Zealand.. A beautiful country and described by many as  “God’s little Acre” I’m sure “Aotearoa” needs little or no introduction to you… It is stunningly beautiful and unspoiled in almost every way..  However!!  (and here’s the thing!!) …my time there was spoiled.!! Unfortunately, I’m going to be rather critical of what should have been a seamless relaxing break.  Let me say at the outset, I am a “Kiwi”.. I grew up there, know the country inside/out.. I have over the years worked tirelessly to improve the plight of persons with a disability.. I take no kudos , nor do I wish for any recognition. I was involved with the NZ Government and their very first “Think Tank” on accessibility and disability many years ago..  I was proud to be invited to the table, to offer my meager input. Australia is streets ahead today, sadly. The inroads that have been made here, leave NZ for dust… Once again, this has been due to successive governments being prepared to ‘grow a pair’ and get on with the job of making accessibility somewhat of a priority.. But, yep, there’s a big but!! this sadly seems to have faded into oblivion. One almost gets the feeling of “well, we’ve done enough to shut the commentators up for now” and the attention has turned elsewhere. Yes, there are significant inroads here…Public transport, building access, workplace access, but it sadly has not gone far enough.. People still struggle on a daily basis just to get across the road, let alone even think about going on holiday. this becomes a logistical nightmare…finding suitable accommodation, airline that is going to be sympathetic to the person with the disability and their carer… Not throwing ‘roadblocks’ in their faces just because it is in their ‘too hard basket’

My intention here, is not to make comparisons between Australia or New Zealand, or any other country for that matter, because accessibility is universal and it should be nothing less… In my opinion, it is just the variance and interpretation that differs!  Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of guidelines when it comes to this. Airlines, Cruise Ships, Train Travel and Rental Car company’s all have their own interpretation and the variance is huge!  What needs to be addressed again, some 40 years on from its inception, is the United Nations Charter… The International Year of the Disabled came to light in 1981 and it was a huge leap forward… The hardest part of this was education and sadly, this is still the case in 2016… I digress!! Before leaving for NZ, I needed to make sure that my accommodation was going to be fully accessible.. Sadly this was not the case and even sadder was this involved an international 4.5 star hotel chain. I called this particular chain to confirm that my room was fully accessible…I was informed that this hotel pride themselves on having full access.. Well, I do not know what their definition of full access is, but sadly it was far from acceptable.. Now, most would just accept this as the norm..I did not!  I refused to pay their rate stating that I would have chosen another establishment but as it was late, cold and wet.. (that’s New Zealand for ya!!) and the staff that were on duty when I arrived, had gone above and beyond their station to make my stay as comfortable as they could, I decided to let it slide… As I said, the staff were exceptional all doing what it took to assist.. Free breakfast & drink vouchers… Honestly?? yes! I was very appreciative of this gesture, but all they were doing was putting a band-aid on a severely embarrassing situation.  When it came time to check out, the Executive Manager was waiting at the reception desk, wanting to know if everything had been to my satisfaction… I made it very clear it was not! I explained it was a disgrace! What could they do to improve ? was the question…I simply said go look at other hotels in the chain to see how to get it right.. Also said I was not paying .. No problem, they did not want any fuss as they knew they were not up to standard!

As for the rental car company, they were faultless and could not have done enough… Other motels and hotels have a very different view on access so the lesson here is BEWARE!! Then I visited my old mate who runs a dive charter business. I was his guinea-pig for a new hoist he’s developed and prided himself on being fully accessible..  It was pure magic.. Yep! that’s me on his boat!

AS I SEE IT…ACCESS

Donald H. Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence once said… “If you are not criticised, you may not be doing much.”

As a double amputee in a wheelchair, access is paramount and something I am passionate about.. Many a time I have been criticised for speaking out on this basic right.. but here’s the thing.. most people tend to sit back and say nothing..I can’t do that.

wheelchair accessFor the past 6 months, I have spent a fair amount of time travelling. Access is a big thing to one such as myself… Hotels, airlines, trains, buses, footpaths, shops let alone bathrooms and public conveniences! Where do I start?

Let’s just look at getting from the Gold Coast to Coolangatta airport for starters. The airport bus works fine…when the bus is capable of lowering the ramp!

Sadly this does not happen all of the time.. They simply do not work! My argument here, is simple…they should not be on the road! They are defective, same applies with “wheelchair taxis” if defective, they need to be withdrawn from service and repaired…simple as that!

Now, I’m probably going to upset a few of you… Gold Coast Airport, as you know, has no air-bridge. Some will argue this is a good thing. Try it from a wheelchair and you soon realise it is not! It is that simple! For this reason, I choose to travel up to Brisbane and fly from there. The trains are fantastic and very accessible and personally, I have never encountered a problem.

Now to the airlines… I could not believe that the particular airline I choose to fly did not have an aisle chair on board the aircraft. UNBELIEVABLE!!

I immediately addressed the issue with this carrier and I am happy to say, whilst there is still no chair on board, they are working toward a solution. You see, no one had ever bothered to point it out to them, so they were unaware of the problem.

The thing here is, they took OWNERSHIP and are working to resolve this issue. I continue to fly with them and have nothing but praise for the way in which they have addressed the issue. No need to jump up and down and create a scene at the airport. I just don’t have that chip on my shoulder.

Most accommodations these days, must provide an accessible room. The definition of accessible varies considerably and this is where the problem arises..What you and I call accessible, I am sure is poles apart. It’s simple…Access into the bathroom, shower and wide enough to cater for most wheelchairs.

With the Commonwealth Games upon us, we need to be thinking about total access now. I put my hand up to advise and assist the GCCC in this process. It simply must be right! In the United States, nothing is left to chance…NOTHING!

Ok, I grant you that the laws there allow for an individual to sue the pants off whoever gets it wrong. They pretty much have it right. Sadly the privilege is abused when it comes to cruising as laws there do not allow them to question your right to an accessible cabin on a ship.

What annoyed me there, was the number of people that abused the right. Climbed into a wheelchair, just to get to the front of the queue, then walked to the buffet or took the lift, simply because they were obese, or just plain lazy. Harsh yes, but fact!

Did I get angry, speak out…absolutely! Was I criticised for doing so, yes! Would I stop and sit back and let this happen NO!

Again, here’s the thing, I don’t care too much about myself, I can and have been speaking out for nearly 40 years as a Broadcaster and Journalist.

I have helped implement change and am proud of that achievement. The people I care about are our “Diggers, the elderly & frail, those that can’t speak out, simply because they are struggling to cope with their daily existence.

This brings me to the point I wish to hammer home…Right now, there is a lot of construction taking place on the Gold Coast with the building of the “LITE RAIL” access for anyone is difficult, let alone those who are frail, elderly, young families with strollers and of course those of us confined to a wheelchair.

I have addressed the issue and whilst the authorities are concerned, sadly they just play “lip service” to the problem and throw a bit of hot mix over the paths with no consideration to those that have to struggle on a daily basis, just to get to their corner store…It needs to be changed…Attitudes need to change as does the planners thinking.

No doubt I will be criticised once again for speaking out, but as I said at the start of this article, quoting from Donald H Rumsfeld…“If you are not criticised, you may not be doing much.”

I hope I am doing something!

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