Sep 15

Sydney Olympic Park

I now find it hard to believe that when we moved to Homebush in 2004, one of the primary reasons wasn’t to be close to Sydney Olympic Park. This place is a wheelie paradise. Wide, open footpaths, stairs used only where absolutely essential, and accessible loos everywhere. A lot of thought has been put into facilities as well. As new shops and cafes have sprung up around the precinct, there are no ‘one step entries’ that I’ve moaned long and loud about in the past. And every accessible loo has a sign:

I’ll do a post sometime about some of the best facilities, but for today, I’ll leave it with this thought: I often hear commentators calling this place a white elephant. To them I offer this photo:

Apr 12

1 April 2012

With full acknowledgement of Scott Rains and his excellent Rolling Rains Report, here’s a little something for April Fool’s Day. Of course, it’s not a joke – it’s tragically true.


Mar 12

Interview with Ellen Fanning, from The Global Mail

This week, my wife and I were interviewed by Ellen Fanning from The Global Mail (theglobalmail.org) on the topic of the much-vaunted National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). I’m no expert on the topic so my comments were based simply on my experiences as a person with a physical disability, and the parent of a child with autism. The full transcript of my answers is reproduced below.

[EF] What’s wrong with the current system – the way in which it operates from scarcity and in response to crisis rather than in a planned way?

[PB] Perhaps a better question is ‘what’s right with the current system’! It’s grossly underfunded, slow to react to need and unbelievably bureaucratic. The amount of time to fill in forms is mind-boggling. On one respite application alone, for our son, we spent at least 10 hours of solid work. Carers are notoriously time poor, but still we are expected to fill in these incredible forms, asking all sorts of detail about your personal lives, and if you dare be positive about anything, you will miss out on funding. For people who just want to get on with their lives, but need some support, it’s cruel and unusual punishment.

Every provider also asks for different information so you can’t use a database of answers. They even vary the forms from year to year!

The costs of disability are very significant. In the 10 years since I developed my condition, we have spent perhaps $100,000 on mobility aids, home and vehicle modifications. That’s not even including medical expenses or therapy, only some of which are covered by Medicare and private health insurance. For our son, we spend around $10,000 pa on therapy. Almost none of those costs are currently met by government. That’s the scope of the challenge for the NDIS.

[EF] Examples of how this happens and the result for the person with a disability and their family.

[PB] Last year, my wife had to go away for a few days. I don’t need a lot of help, but there are a few things I just can’t do myself – such as put shoes and socks on. I needed a helper for perhaps 10 minutes a day, for 4 days. As it’s hard for me to communicate instructions to the worker, I wanted the same person each day, not 4 different workers who needed new instructions each day. Apparently this type of help is unusual – most folks either need no help or regular ongoing help. Because it was unusual, Ruth had to make 8 phone calls before it was approved, handed to a provider, then a worker was allocated. It was just incredibly hard. Too hard.

There was no capacity for me to arrange it myself by email, for example.

Because my condition is a variation of Motor Neurone Disease, I joined the MND Society a couple of years ago. They offer some excellent services and support for members, including an equipment loan facility. This means you can borrow equipment you need, at no cost. I wanted to consider borrowing an manual lifter, which would have been useful in a variety of situations. However, because the prognosis for many people living with MND is relatively poor (3-5 years) and mine is relatively good (PLS is considered ‘lifestyle’ threatening, not life threatening) the society doesn’t have the funding to assist me. I will simply live too long to be a good prospect of returning the equipment!

[EF] What you would hope for out of an improved system? What characteristics would it have? How would having a better system in place change life experiences for folks with a disability and their families?

[PB] There’s been a lot of discussion about funding, and clearly that’s important. I think the estimate provided by the Productivity Commission was that funding needs to treble. I suspect that’s an underestimate. But also a big part of whether the NDIS is worth a candle is about bureaucracy and implementation. How can it avoid the brutal duplication and wastage that occurs now? How can it avoid making such demands on carers and people with disabilities, who it seeks to help? How can it change from being negative to positive?

There needs to be no difference between states. For example, when you need to modify a vehicle in NSW to accommodate a wheelchair, you get no assistance. The cost of modification is $25-30,000. In Victoria, you get $10,000. But NSW has a very good system of subsidised taxi transport.

There needs to be no difference between conditions. Currently, if you have an easily-diagnosed condition, that fits nicely into a well-funded and active society or organisation, you may get relatively good support. If you have a rare condition, or worse, you are undiagnosed, you are largely on your own. Support should be on the basis of needs, not diagnosis.

A new system needs to be as simple as Medicare, but spread over a huge range of very high cost services and products. My powered wheelchair cost $15,000, and now needs about $4,000 of custom seating adjustments. (That’s on top of two $5,000 manual wheelchairs.) And $15,000 is pretty cheap for a powerchair. The one I wanted, but couldn’t afford, was $26,000. I can’t see any government spending even $15,000 on a wheelchair without pretty massive bureaucracy. At the point I found myself needing a powerchair, I needed it soon. If I’d had to wait three years (or even one year) I’d have been unable to work during that time and would have lost touch with the workforce. It’s not uncommon to wait three years for funding under the current system.

A new system should not be means-tested, or at least with very generous limits. Many people with disabilities can’t work, or can’t find work. Those who can should not be discouraged from doing so by eligibility rules for support. The costs of disability are real and additional, whether you are rich or poor.

You can read the full Productivity Commission report here – http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/disability-support/report

Sep 11

The (Not) Barrier Free Prize for Boneheadedness

This week has two very close contenders. Before the photos, a short introduction to each.

Photo 1 was taken on level 8 of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Level 8 houses the neurology wards. That’s right, most of the hospital’s mobility cases pass through this ward. In case you can’t read the date on the ‘out of order’ sign, it says 31/7/11. I know there’s a shortage of plumbers in Sydney, but two months to fix a loo seems a bit ridiculous.

Photo 2 was taken on my way to the train this morning. Homebush Rd is pretty busy, with cars coming quickly around from The Crescent posing a risk to anyone who isn’t fleet of foot. Which is why the council provides a refuge island half way across. I use it often, as do many parents with strollers. So which bright spark garbologist decided to leave two bins blocking the gutter ramp? With this ramp blocked, pedestrians have little choice but to cross further up, where there’s no refuge island.



Mar 11

Luna Park, Sydney

The Amusement Park with the Multi-Million Dollar View

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in this case it bred considerable admiration. Admiration for a true case where making a facility accessible is in no way at the cost of the general user.

Courtesy of an annual pass gift to my daughter, I’ve spent 38 hours entertaining myself at Luna Park this summer. Rather than having one of those crazy and out-of-control Luna Park parties where large groups of kids run in all directions, she attended with a different friend each day.

Anyone can enter and leave LP at will; you only need a pass to go on rides. For me, that meant I was free to cruise the park and explore while the kids rode, so long as I kept all the bags, hats and surplus clothes and had meet points prearranged.

There are bars and cafes spread throughout Luna Park. Some of these are outdoors with umbrellas for shade; others are indoors with full facilities. Of these, my favourite was The Deck. It’s a very pleasant bar and cafe, with large open windows looking over a full panorama from Balmain to Wooloomooloo. You can buy coffee, a beer, wine by the glass or even a cocktail and sit by the windows and enjoy the breeze. Or just watch the ferries come and go. There is music, but it’s mostly just in the background; it’s genuine respite from the sights and sounds of the park outside. The Deck is air conditioned, but on the days I was there, it wasn’t needed. Being right beside the harbor makes a huge difference in temperature — even on very hot days. The accessible toilet has a sliding door, which is easy to use. As usual though, I couldn’t get it locked.

Another bar/cafe is The Big Top, which is also air conditioned. But with constant background of Top 40 video hits. For an hour or two that wasn’t so bad. I now consider myself an expert on 2010 pop songs, just as we start 2011. It also has a good accessible bathroom.

There are also accessible toilets at either end of the main concourse. As these are part of regular male and female toilet facilities, they won’t suit everyone. Never fear, both The Deck and The Big Top have their own standalone accessible toilets. The Deck has a manual sliding door and The Big Top is outward opening. Both have their own basins.

Getting to Luna Park is simple. The Milson’s Point ferry stops right at the entrance, so you can take a ferry or rivercat from any waterside locatIon. The ferry and wharf is accessible. Trains to Milson’s Point are numerous, and the station is accessible. There’s also plenty of parking.

The space at Luna Park is large, for such an inner city location; such that it really doesn’t feel too crowded, even in peak season.

The ‘street’ entertainers are pretty good. There are 1950s retro dancing girls, fun patrol surf boys doing the same and all manner of trumpeters, brass bands, stilt-walkers, clowns and more. After a few hours the non-stop energy got too much for me; they go all day and I was amazed at their stamina.

I was under strict instructions not to take any rides during my visits — I was purely an observer. However, the use of rides by guests with disabilities isn’t ignored at Luna Park. Every ride has a ‘fun and safety guide’ on a board at its entrance. This states warnings about health conditions to be aware of, whether guests in wheelchairs need to transfer and whether there is room for an assistance dog on the ride. It’s the best information I’ve seen of its type and saves any difficult questions prior to riding. It’s a model all theme parks should adopt.


For visitors to Sydney with kids, Luna Park should be on the must-see list. For locals, if you haven’t been recently, take another look at this incredible resource. For wheelies, it’s very well thought out and highly accessible. For parents of all sorts, it’s far from a hardship posting.

Feb 11

iThink, therefore … iPad

As a person who can’t speak, I use many other strategies to communicate. Mostly, this involves technology. I love technology, and my lack of voice has given me an excuse to try everything I can get my hands on over the last few years. I’ve been meaning to write up a summary for ages. So here it is…

The tool I use most is just the word processing package Pages on the iPad. While obviously it’s not designed as any sort of therapeutic tool, it works so well I now use it every day. In most scenarios, I just show the person I’m speaking to the text I’ve typed. In large groups, or in meetings, I usually nominate someone as my ‘reader’ and hand the device to them when I want to make a contribution. (Though it’s worth saying, the job of reader has some skill attached. Some people insist on ‘interpreting’ what I type. And it’s a rare reader who can pick up the emphasis I want — no matter how much italics, bold or how many asterisks I use.) Previously I used Word on the laptop in the same way.

The choice between devices is interesting. Personally, I’m preferring the iPad to any other device I’ve used, though others had advantages too. My laptop was good when I used Word 2003, because I could choose to either show the text, or Word had a text-to-speech function so you could just press play and it would say it. That was a very nice option to have, and the iPad has no such function. (Though Word 2007 dropped that function. Go figure.) There was also an Australian accented voice for the notebook, whereas with the iPad you can only choose US or British accents so far. The beauty of the iPad is that you can operate it entirely with one finger. There’s no mouse to master, there are no combination keys to press and best of all, it is ‘instant on’ (that is, you just press the home button and it is on. No slow start up). The iPad is also easy to pass around and of course the battery lasts all day.

There are a number of tools that actually speak the words for you and they break down into two groups – text-to-speech (where you type in the exact words to say) and symbol-based tools (where you use pre-set symbols to make up sentences, or define your own commonly-used phrases). Personally, I’ve always preferred the text-to-speech tools because they allow more nuanced conversation. Symbol-based tools are quite good for making requests, but less so for conversations. On a laptop, the best of the text-to-speech tools are TextAloud and NextUp Talker (more sophisticated). Both are available with an incredible range of natural voices, including the Australian accent I mentioned above, which is called Lee. All are Windows only. For the Mac, the best I’ve seen is called GhostReader.

For the iPad, there are quite limited text-to-speech options. There is an expensive app called EZSpeechPro ($229), but the main one I use is called Speak it! Both have only American and/or British voices. The best of the symbol-based tools I’ve found for the iPad is called Auto Verbal. Again, it only has an American accent but it’s simple, cheap and useable. You can also save phrases you regularly use and they are available with a single tap. There are some very expensive and sophisticated symbol-based packages for both the iPad and laptop (an example is Proloquo2Go – $239) but, to me, they don’t offer more than the combination of a simple tool and a word processor.

I’ve also found that text-to-speech works well in some situations and less well in others. In formal meetings and presentations, and especially on conference calls and phone calls, I find text-to-speech a great tool. For example, when I need to speak to a bank on the phone, they won’t accept someone speaking for you. But they will accept text-to-speech. The thing is, you need to plan in advance or least warn the listener they will need to wait while you type your answer. Text-to-speech tools read exactly what you type, so if you make typos, that’s what they read. Whereas when I’m just showing the words I’ve typed I can type away flat out and just let the typos go uncorrected.

My feeling is that, on balance, the iPad currently offers the best range of functions for a user. For anyone with limited hand functions, especially, it is just so simple to use. Because most apps are so cheap, you can afford to get a number of the different text-to-speech and symbol-based apps and just try them out. Whereas on the laptop that would cost several hundred dollars.

Jan 11

CityRail’s allergy to MLAK

MLAK is a great system. It stands for Master Locksmith’s Access Key, and it is a (near) universal system for gaining 24/7 access to disabled toilets in public facilities around Australia. To get an MLAK, you simply visit your local locksmith, show your disability parking permit, or a letter from a doctor or other service provider, and they issue the key. Mine cost $12, but I’m not sure if that’s a standard cost. In return, you get access to clean, well serviced, accessible bathrooms in any location where the facility has chosen to fit an MLAK lock. The lock, of course, keeps those who don’t need accessible facilities out. There’s rarely a queue for MLAK fitted toilets.

For whatever reason, CityRail in Sydney has chosen to mostly not use MLAK. They fit a different lock, with a sign above it saying ‘to use toilets, see station staff’. I recently wanted to use the bathroom at Circular Quay Station, so I first tried my MLAK, and after finding it didn’t work, sought out the station staff. The staff member at the exit gate looked at me blankly, then picked up her radio and called another staff member. Five minutes later, a staff member arrived with a key on a big wooden keyring, and instructed me to follow them. They let me in, and then waited outside to ensure the door was locked on my exit.

What a completely idiotic system! Just in terms of wasted staff time and cost, it is bad enough; to say nothing of the indignity of a person in a wheelchair having to ask to use a toilet when no other patron needs to.

CityRail has signs around stations at the moment, trumpeting their success in meeting certain benchmarks they have set themselves. One of these benchmarks is ‘better facilities for disabled passengers’. Their measure of success is that they have fitted MLAK locks on twelve existing accessible toilets at train stations (though they don’t say where). I’ve seen one — on Platform 5 at Strathfield Station (though the main accessible toilet on the ground floor remains locked with a ‘see staff’ sign).

I don’t know how much it costs CityRail to fit an MLAK lock, but my office fitted one and it was $50, plus 40 minutes labour. It seems to me that twelve MLAK locks is a pretty paltry effort. In the lead up to the NSW election, how about one of the parties do something really radical, and make a completely affordable, sensible, practical promise that will improve the commuting experience of an entire (albeit small) segment of rail commuters. I reckon it would cost less than $5,000 to convert them all. They’d save that in labour alone in the first month or two.

Nov 10

Redbrow Garden Bed & Breakfast, Canberra

We try quite a few accessible accommodation options each year. Many work better than we expect. Some don’t.

We had searched long and hard for the right option in Canberra. Surprisingly, for a city with so many visitors and with so many accessible venues, good accessible accommodation is lacking. Most major hotels have a room or two available with suitable modifications. But we travel as a family, and what we really want is an apartment with a small kitchenette, and a maybe one or two bedrooms. Despite all the short-term apartment options in Canberra, I’ve yet to find one that is ideal.

With that dearth of options as a backdrop, we decided to try Redbrow Garden. Redbrow Garden is a B & B located on the outskirts of Canberra, between the suburb of Hall and the town of Murrumbateman. It only takes about 20 minutes to reach the centre of the city. Accommodation consists of four modern, individual en-suite rooms. There is also a three-bedroom garden guesthouse available. One of the on-suite rooms has wheelchair access and a modified bathroom.

The accessible room has a lovely outlook and is very pretty. The bathroom is also well designed. Bars are well located for both the toilet and shower. The floor is also well thought out — it’s an interesting concrete/pebble mix that is quite non-slip, even when wet.

Another interesting enhancement is that the shower is in fact two showers — one at either end of the wet area. It’s the first accessible shower I’ve seen that lets you shower with a friend!

A well-designed bathroom

However, there are also downsides. For me at least, the bed was much too high. At nearly 70cm, I simply could not get in. That made for an uncomfortable night sleeping in my chair.

Outside the room, there are some problems too. The car park is covered with large pebbles, which are attractive, but almost impassible in a wheelchair. When we tried to unload my chair became bogged in the pebbles and would not move. I had to transfer to my spare chair to get out of the bog. It was a difficult late night move, and I wouldn’t like to repeat it.

Additionally, the entry to the breakfast room is rather tricky, with a narrow sliding door and a sizeable door frame to navigate.

There’s no doubt Redbrow Garden is a lovely place. It’s a uniquely natural, small, family-owned rural retreat where the focus is on country hospitality.  It is surrounded by a delightful rural garden. Canberra’s well known cool climate wineries and gourmet eateries are also very nearby.

Redbrow Garden

Hosts David and Elisabeth Judge should be congratulated for trying to make their facility useable by wheelchair users. Unfortunately, not everything works and wheelchair-users would be well-advised to consider their needs and perhaps make arrangements to inspect before making a booking.

Sep 10

There’s life after driving

Today marks four years since I stopped driving. It’s something that happens to everyone, eventually. In my case, the time came sooner than I would have liked, but later than it should have.

Because my condition progressed quite slowly, driving was initially no problem. But as my legs became less useful, driving became harder. When my voice started failing, I wondered how I would deal with the police, if I was ever pulled over. Or how I would deal with an accident, even if it wasn’t my fault. But I kept driving.

I realised I had started driving more and more slowly, hugging the left lane, and resting my foot on the brake pedal in preparation for any red lights. But I was still driving.

My GP recommended a driving assessment, which I undertook, and passed, scoring 7 out of 10 – not bad for a guy who couldn’t use his legs. And I kept driving.

One evening, on the way home from work in the half light of dusk, I saw in my peripheral vision a child – no older than two – dash out of a street-side shop, between two parked cars and onto the road in front of me. Her desperate father was no more than a metre behind; stooped low and running, his arms outstretched as he willed her to stop. I froze. I didn’t swerve or touch the brakes. I expected an impact but it didn’t come. How I missed her I’ll never really know. I saw in my mirror that the car behind me swerved and braked violently. I assume she hadn’t quite reached my path and that saved her.

I pulled over, shaking uncontrollably. After about 40 minutes I had regained enough composure to drive slowly home. Amazingly, inexplicably, I kept driving.

Perhaps a week later I was listening to ABC morning radio and one caller was former NSW Children’s Court magistrate Barbara Holborow. She explained that she had given up driving as she no longer felt she was safe. She reasoned that while she probably could have retained her license for a bit longer, she could never have lived with herself if she had killed or injured someone, and that the modest inconvenience was a small price to pay for peace of mind.

When I arrived home that evening, perhaps my wife could see something had changed. As she helped me from the car, she asked ‘how much longer do you want to keep doing this?’ I answered ‘No more. That’s enough’ and that was the last day I drove.

I developed a relationship with a couple of taxi drivers who drove a premium wheelchair accessible taxi. They arranged that I could SMS my bookings to them, and offered a brilliant service. After a visit to my GP, The NSW State Government provided me with vouchers under the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme, a wonderful program that provides people with permanent disabilities with half price taxi fares. My employer generously offered to pay the remainder of my travel to work.

Later, after I moved to a powerchair, I learned to catch the train, and now use this method of public transport whenever I can. I know the trains are a pain for some, but for me, they’re brilliant. The station staff at my regular stations now know me and call ahead to the platform to make sure the train dwells long enough for me to get on.

Of course, there are things you miss when you don’t drive. I used to love long drives on country roads. And the convenience of course. The burden, also, on my wife, who is now our family’s only driver, is significant.

One thing that amazed me, after I stopped driving, was how many people — friends, family, work colleagues, even my doctors — said to me how much of a relief it was to them that I had stopped. They had been desperately worried whenever I ventured out. Why didn’t anyone say anything? Maybe they all figured it was for someone else to do. Or feared my reaction. Or perhaps they felt I was sensible enough to know when the time was right. Well, I wasn’t. I’m honestly not sure what I would have done if someone had sat me down and said it was time to stop, but I sincerely hope I’d have listened. I now know, if I knew someone in my situation, or even an elderly relative or friend I was concerned about, I’d certainly say something.

I’ve learnt there is life after driving.

Sep 10

My life as a nursing skills video

When you’re in a foreign city, and away from your own customised home, it’s almost inevitable you surrender a bit of independence. Doubly so if you need to engage an agency nurse to help out with the essentials of life.

On this trip, the hotel was superb (more on this later) so I really only needed the nurse to help with dressing and getting in and out of bed. But that’s an almost impossible ask for a nurse trained to look after sick people. No matter how I tried to explain that I could clean my teeth or squirt my shaving cream without assistance, it fell on deaf ears. She was here to help, and help she would. No matter what I wanted.

I should have guessed what was to come when, on the first night, the nurse arrived with a bag of tricks that included plastic sheets and a bed pan. Everything had a procedure – from drying between my toes with a hair dryer, to the method of putting her rubber gloves on before I was showered. My muscles, especially in the mornings, move slowly, so when I was instructed to move – ‘stand please’, ‘sit please’, roll to the left please’, ‘lean forward please’ I often didn’t react sufficiently quickly and the instruction was repeated, slightly more loudly this time. I was greeted each morning with the question ‘did you have a bowel movement yesterday?’ Each time this question was asked, I simply shook my head in wonderment, and ignored the question. This proved to be a poor choice of actions. On the last day, my nurse arrived with laxatives!

Now, I don’t mean to belittle all of her assistance – some of it was essential. And all was provided professionally and I’m sure highly skilfully. I’m just genuinely puzzled about how to get the level of assistance you need – somewhere between going it alone and feeling like you are in intensive care.  It can make the difference between a pleasant trip, and checking your dignity in at reception.

Aug 10

Manual v Electric

On this trip, I’ve chosen to bring my manual chair only, but it was a close run thing. I generally only use my manual chair at home, as I’m now very slow in it. But for bathroom transfers, it’s the only way to go. Water and powerchairs don’t mix. But getting around the hotel, and the city generally, in my powerchair is far easier.

I also understand airlines often struggle with powerchairs and they sometimes arrive damaged. That would be a disaster. In my view, better to have a limited manual chair than a damaged, or worse — non-functioning — powerchair.

Another thing that influenced me was how often I find a single step or two when I’m away. In my manual chair, that’s no issue. Someone can tip me back and it’s done. In the powerchair, I need a ramp. Just one more thing to carry…

Finally, taxis in Singapore are not like Australia. Every wheelie cab I’ve used is just a Mercedes Vito, unconverted, and the driver simply places a set of ramps beside the side sliding door. There are no tie-downs and no seat belts. That’s always struck me as odd in such a regulated country. A non-converted Vito has only limited headroom. I doubt I would fit in my powerchair, even if I could get in via the makeshift ramps.

So, I’ve gone for the manual option, and will report my retrospective here in the coming days.

Aug 10

Traveling to Singapore

Today I’m off to Singapore for a 3 day meeting. I haven’t braved international travel for a couple of years, so this is going to be interesting. I’m somewhat less able than I was 2 years ago. Still, I’ve prepared quite well, have a nurse coming morning and night to help, and have been doing intensive physio for 6 weeks, so I’ve given myself a better than even chance of coming through unscathed.

Whatever happens, you’ll read about it here.

One of the few times it’s an advantage to be a wheelchair user is getting through airports. This morning, I am flying to Singapore, and arrived at Sydney international terminal at 9.20am for my 11.20 flight. My colleague, Rob, met me at the taxi and together we went to the Singapore Airlines counter. Of course, it helps when you travel Business Class, but the whole process was incredibly smooth and efficient. We were in the lounge within 20 minutes of arriving. I always use the time in the lounge to stretch before the flight. No matter how large the seat, 8 hours in one place always makes me wish I’d stuck better to my stretching regime.

The Singapore Airlines lounge accessible bathroom is a beauty. The rail beside the shower runs the length of the room, encompassing a shower, with hand-held hose and a long shower seat. If, by some chance, I needed a shower before the flight, this is the place to need it.

They called us for boarding quite early — 40 minutes before departure. With Singapore, there’s no issue of them insisting I surrender my chair at check-in. In all the times I’ve flown with them, they’ve always let me take it to the gate. The one thing Singapore does that confuses me is they get me to transfer to an aisle chair at the gate when I’m seated in the front row. I can understand it if I need to make my way further back, but when I’m up front I’m sure it’s needless. I’ll push the issue on the flight home and see how I go.

The other area where Singapore is great is when I need lifting. There’s never been an issue. A few attendants step forward and off we go. I know many other airlines employ mechanical aids but Singapore is happy to lift, and I’m happy for them to do so.

Anyway, we’re an hour from landing now, so I’ll complete this post and return this evening.

Jul 10

Livable Housing Design Guidelines

Here’s the link to the detailed design and building guidelines for livable housing. I’ll take the time to write my impressions in the coming days.


Jul 10

Seaworld on Queensland’s Gold Coast

As we stood in the queue to enter Seaworld, it looked like a mobility equipment convention. There were wheelchairs, manual and electric, being driven by fit looking young men and others being pushed by friends and carers, as well as scooters and walking frames. My first thought, I’ll admit, was purely selfish. ‘Long queue for the accessible loos today…’ But I need not have worried. Seaworld caters well for wheelchair users. And there’s an accessible toilet around every corner.

There’s almost nowhere a wheelchair user can’t go in the entire park. Although all disabled parking spots where taken when we arrived, general parking is plentiful and close. On entry, we were given a hefty discount on the ticket price without any request for ID. There is ramped access to any elevated platform and reserved, designated front row seating at shows and performances. There’s plenty of room for turning and manoeuvring, even in tunnels and isles. In general, I found a good attention to detail in the access design. Bizarrely, I found two shops in the piazza with a step at the front. One was a gift shop and the other served food.

In principle, while I saw no rides specifically designed for wheelchair users, I guess there’s no reason why a wheelchair user couldn’t also go on most of the rides, assuming you had enough helpers to get you in or on the ride. Me, I chose to watch. I watched my kids go on rides, I watched the dolphin show (very impressive), I watched the fish from the underwater viewing tunnel (also excellent). There was plenty to keep me interested without scaring myself witless on a roller coaster.

My wife observed that power wheelchairs should be marketed as a tool for families for just such outings. At one point I was loaded with all the bags, three raincoats, spare jumpers as well as a child on my lap and a coffee in my tray holder. Try doing that with two arms!

Overall, Seaworld is a good, and very accessible, family day out.

Jun 10

Today’s Heckler in SMH

It’s titled Disabled Daily Strife and it’s by Stephen Hodges. You can find it here:


Well put, Stephen. Nice piece.

Jun 10

The Rocks Fire Water, part of Vivid Sydney

On Saturday night, my daughter and I joined thousands of other Sydneysiders in The Rocks for Fire Water – a part of Vivid Sydney.

I love being in the City at night – especially when there’s an event on. I think the last time we were in was New Year’s Eve, so it’s not something we do every day.

This time, we took train to Circular Quay, which is a stress-free way to travel. Circular Quay is a good station, fairly compact and easy to get away from. Spoilt by my simple commute to work, we didn’t check the timetable, missed an Express train by 1 minute and had to settle for an all-stations service 20 minutes later. Still, it was a pleasant trundle. We opted for a taxi on the way home – just simpler, safer and easier with the time approaching 10pm.

We decided to check out the markets first. The markets seemed larger than I remembered, and several roads were closed. There’s an incredible feeling of freedom when they close roads for an event. Roads offer so much better access than footpaths. Think about it. They are smoother, better maintained, rarely dug up in private renovations and are unimpeded by tree roots. And why? Cars have great big wheels that don’t get stuck on uneven edges, they don’t trip over and have excellent suspension. Surely footpaths should be better than roads. I guess the difference is just a question of priorities.

Where the roads weren’t closed, access was only fair. The Rocks is an historic precinct so I assume the council is limited in making major modifications. But that doesn’t excuse footpaths you follow for 500 metres only to find there’s no gutter ramp at the end and you have to frustratingly turn back. Or gutter ramps encouraging you to cross the road, but without a corresponding ramp on the other side, meaning you have to wheel through traffic to find one. Or not putting ‘no parking’ signs near ramps, so they are parked out and you can’t access them. These things are not good enough.

Fire Water was quite spectacular. It was a beautiful night in the City – cold but clear and calm – and the Opera House was brilliantly lit up, giving us a full Sydney panorama.

All up, a good night out beside beautiful Sydney Harbour. Note to self: don’t wait 6 months before doing it again.

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