Oct 15

I’m not racist, but…

I come from Narooma. Somebody had to.1 In the 1970s and 80s, and I assume before that, Narooma was a pretty racist town. Not that anyone I knew thought that. I don’t think I’d even heard the word ‘racist’ until I moved away. It was just the way things were.

I remember queuing in the local fish and chip shop on a Friday evening, and there was an Aboriginal guy in front of me. He placed his order and the woman behind the counter asked ‘got any money?’.

There was one Italian kid in my class at school. His parents ran the local pizza shop. His nickname: pizza face. There was one Vietnamese kid in the year ahead of me. His nickname: China. You get the drift.

I remember my uncle, who as a kid growing up in Narooma had shot and fished with local Aboriginal kids, told me that ‘black blokes, they’re all lazy. Wouldn’t work on an iron lung’. I asked him about Ronnie, an Aboriginal bloke I knew he’d worked with for years. Was he lazy too? ‘No, Ronnie’s a top bloke. It’s the rest of them.’

When I was in year 12, I was boys’ vice-captain. The captain was an Aboriginal kid. Every year, school captains from the country made a trip to Sydney to meet the Governor. Except from Narooma. We sent me, the vice-captain. It was said the captain had ‘gone walkabout’, which is code for ‘how could a school admit they elected an Aboriginal captain?’.

When Bruce Springsteen wrote about his hometown, he said ‘if you were different, black or brown, it was a pretty redneck town’. I know exactly what he means.

That said, I love Narooma. Physically, it’s the most beautiful part of the NSW coast. I cross the bridge heading into town and look up the river and instantly relax. I know how strongly I still associate with Narooma by the low regard in which I hold the towns nearby. Moruya; barren, dull. Only a short drive from somewhere better. Batemans Bay; overrated, physically unattractive. Bermagui; rough. Cobargo; Deliverence country. Greatest claim to fame is the 5-year-old who ran away from home on his tricycle, with a shotgun in the tray…

Move forward 32 years and I’m more enlightened. I suspect most of the country is. I gave my uncle a t-shirt that had a map of Australia and an Aboriginal flag pegged in the middle with the words ‘100% Mabo’. Even he laughed, before throwing it in the bin.

Recently, Brenton, one of my mates from uni, sent me an email. He’d had a new bloke start work with him who had grown up in Narooma. He was close to my age. Surely I knew him. I looked at the name. It rang no bells at all. This was a town where my mate Wingnut and I used to sit on the school bus and name every single person we saw as the bus traveled through town. There was only one possible reason I wouldn’t know his name; he was Aboriginal.

It’s here I should point out that I dribble a bit. Okay, sometimes a fair bit. Especially when I’m concentrating. Or laughing. I had planned to reply to Brenton with a simple two word question, to test my assumption. Those two words were to be: ‘Aboriginal guy?’. Unfortunately, just as I started typing my mood got the better of me. I thought of those school bus trips with Wingnut and laughed. A drop of saliva appeared on my lip. I had typed just three letters: ‘Abo’ as the saliva drop lingered, dangled, and then fell…perfectly onto the ‘send’ button on my iPad screen.

At that moment, I learnt that saliva and finger tips are of a perfect consistency: both activate iPad screens. The message was sent.

I stared at the screen for a number of seconds, as if will power could retract the message. I’m actually surprised the message even got through. If public service email systems can block vulgarity, surely they should also block dismissive racist slurs.

I’m sure Brenton had a few intense moments of deep contemplation – ‘now, how do I respond to THAT?’ before my retraction and explanation arrived. To his credit, he’s never doubted my story. I guess it’s too bizarre to make up.

Thank God it wasn’t on Twitter.


1 I stole and bastardised this line from Bill Bryson, in his hilarious The Lost Continent:  Travels in Small Town America.

I’ve changed some names to protect the guilty and the innocent.

Aug 11

Oui, oui…

This article was published in a different form in Wednesday’s Heckler column in The Sydney Morning Herald. You can link to it here.

I have some sympathy for Gerard Depardieu. You know, sometimes when you’ve gotta go, you’ve really gotta go. Doubly so when your use of a wheelchair severely limits the number of public toilet options available to you.

Last Friday I was in the QVB and an excess of caffeine did what it does. For some inexplicable reason, the disabled toilets in the QVB are on the 1st floor and the lower ground floor, accessible only by a very slow and often crowded lift. After taking the lift to the 1st floor, I found the accessible toilet locked. And it wasn’t locked by an MLAK — the Master Locksmiths Access Key system that provides people with disabilities 24/7 access via a common key. It was locked by security. I couldn’t find security so I asked a cleaner who promised to find security. After 15 minutes waiting I gave up.

Next stop was the HSBC Building, across George Street. But there was a large sign on the door of the accessible toilet ‘Door locked — see security’. Again, no sign of an MLAK lock, and no sign of security. After a search of the floor revealed no security office, I decided that as I was now very close to Town Hall station, that was a better option.

As soon as I entered the station, there was a sign that looked promising. It lead me around several corners and finally to the base of a large set of stairs — the sign pointing straight up the stairs to the HSBC Building I had just visited.

At that moment, in Friday afternoon peak hour at Town Hall Station, with no accessible toilet anywhere to be seen, the aisle of an Air France plane seemed a pretty private place for a pee.

Finally my search of the station revealed another toilet but my heart missed a beat as I saw another sign on the door. ‘Toilets only accessible with MLAK key.’ Bless CityRail. They can do no wrong by me. Trains can run late, platforms can be crowded, the Waratah trains can never be delivered — but I’ll be the last man standing (ok, sitting) and defending them.

The MLAK system is simplicity itself. It ensures those who need access get it and those who don’t are excluded.

What is it about building managers that causes them to ignore a widely accepted method of access control in favour of a solution that suits no-one? When will they get that accessible isn’t accessible if you can’t get in the door?

All I know is that unless they get it soon, they may find themselves mopping up, in the words of Gerard Depardieu, a lot more oui oui.

Apr 11

Why can’t able-bodied people lock doors?


Twice in the last week I’ve pressed the ‘open door’ button on disabled toilets to reveal a seemingly able-bodied person sitting on the loo — in one case reading a newspaper. It’s bad enough to use the disabled toilet when you don’t need it. But the least you can do is lock the door!

I think I know what has happened. The locks on some modern shopping centre toilets are time limited. If you don’t unlock it within 10 minutes, it unlocks itself. One centre even had to put up a sign to remind people (see picture above).

So the folks I’ve rolled in on have committed multiple sins — using a toilet to which they are not entitled, not keeping the door locked, and being bloody slow! Wise up folks.

After these two occasions I’m now going to have my phone at the ready when I press the open door button. The next person I catch is getting posted on this blog.

Apr 11

Rant about little dogs

What is it about little dogs? Why do they have to prove their masculinity by yapping? Ok, I’ll admit, I’m the owner of a big dog — a Golden Retriever — so I do view little dogs as something of a waste of time. She’s far from obedience personified. She has a particular dislike of possums. If one simply dares walk along our fence line, she nearly knocks the fence down in her attempt to get it. But possums are smarter than dogs. They think it’s a great joke to sit in a tree, just out of her reach, and watch her go crazy. They are the Road Runner to her Wily Coyote. I hope she never discovers ACME on eBay.

But I’m digressing. Despite Bloss’s imperfections, she’s mostly even tempered. She’s a ‘doggy’ dog. She loves other dogs. She’s not neurotic.

We often run across small dogs on our daily walks. Almost invariably they go berserk. I’ve seen one tiny white dog, sensibly locked indoors by its owner, tear a curtain down with frenetic paddling on the glass door. I’ve seen tiny dogs, no bigger or more attractive than large rats, bite their owners as they pick them up as we pass.

And for what?

When Bloss meets another dog on the street, she has a sniff, sometimes touches noses, and, satisfied with the introduction, moves on. Walking is more fun than schmoozing.

A few months ago, on the way home from Sydney Olympic Park, I decided to go via small off-leash area and let Bloss have a free run. As soon as we arrived, a woman arrived with her small dog and let it off. Immediately upon being released, the small dog went crazy. It went in and out of Bloss’s legs, trying to bite her as it went. It was barking constantly, with each bark running together into a high pitched squeal.

Its frantic owner, clearly appalled by her dog’s behavior, was trying to pick it up, but she couldn’t catch it. I decided the only way to resolve the fracas was to speed off, with Bloss still attached, and drag her out of there. I hit the power lever and took off. At just that moment, the small dog ran directly in front of my chair and went straight under me. I felt a small bump. The look on the owner’s face had to be seen to be imagined.

At this point, I should admit family form on such behavior. My paternal grandfather, a man of very few words, was walking home from a day’s work 70 years ago and was confronted by a neighbor’s small dog, yapping around his legs and jumping up on him. He was carrying a shovel and gave the dog a quick swipe with the shovel to get it away from him. The dog gave a quick yelp and fell over, clearly dead.

I can only imagine Granddad’s pain, who enjoyed chatting to neighbors as much a dose of castor oil, arriving at his neighbor’s door and trying to explain what had happened. ‘Your dog was barking at me and trying to bite me, Mavis.’ ‘Oh, he’s a naughty little fellow. Where is he and I’ll give him a good talking to?’

All these memories washed over me as I looked at the owner. The blood had drained from her face and she looked very ill. If looks could kill, my headstone would be forever inscribed ‘Those Barrys – They Kill Small Dogs’.

Suddenly, there was a muffled yap, and a small dog emerged out the back of my scooter. It was still barking.

I decided the best place for me to be was somewhere else. So Bloss and I zoomed off and never looked back.

Mar 11

Parking desperation

Picture this: it’s a rainy Saturday afternoon at Leichhardt Aquatic Centre. The Tigers are playing the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval next door, so parking – often a challenge in Leichhardt – is at a premium. A chap who has been at the pool with his kids returns to his neat European car, parked without a permit in a disabled space, and finds 2 parking officers booking the car beside his, which is also parked illegally. At this point, most people would count their blessings at returning in the nick of time, look embarrassed and get out of there as quick as possible. But not this fellow.

‘That’s really rough’ he says to one parking officer. ‘We haven’t booked you’ she replies. He continues that they are still way out of line, because ‘there’s absolutely nowhere to park here when the football is on’. He’s aggrieved on behalf of the person parked beside him! He gesticulates in the direction of the general car park ‘why don’t you do something about them?’. (I’m not sure what a parking officer is supposed to do about 500 cars parked completely legally.) His complaints increase in heat as he gets into his car. He then winds down his window and shouts abuse at the parking officers as he drives away.

Disabled parking spaces exist for a reason. Many people with a disability cannot park elsewhere. Normal parking spaces may be too far away, or too narrow to unload a wheelchair, or without gutter ramps, or the ground too rough to traverse. Able-bodied folks face no such issues. There were parking spaces near the Aquatic Centre that day; they were just further down the hill, necessitating a walk back up the hill in the rain. That’s a pest for a person who walks, but an impossibility for many who don’t.

Sitting in my wheelchair, watching this nasty event unfold, I wondered what this fellow’s kids took away from the encounter. Did they learn to respect authority and uphold the law? To control their anger in public? To appreciate the needs of others? Perhaps to put things in perspective? In a city where a good parking spot can move some people to tears, I’d like to hope their dad later reflected on his tirade and told them it was an example of how not to behave. But, somehow, I doubt it.

Feb 11

I didn’t need to hear that

It’s amazing how often people talk as if I’m not there. It happened yesterday, when I was in my local cafe.

My powerchair has a large pouch on one arm. It’s my multi-purpose receptacle. As I go about my daily business, everything goes in there. Train tickets, credit cards, receipts, change, plastic bags, several phones, tools and assorted extras. My wife’s handbag has nothing on my pouch! On this day, sitting in the cafe alone, I decided to tidy my pouch.

At a table directly across from me sat a group; a family with mum, dad and two young kids. One child was a toddler, intent on exploring his world and keeping his parents very busy. In a pram was a tiny baby, perhaps only a month old. I remember that life stage. It’s not easy. The dad, in particular, was run ragged. After a short time they were joined by the mum’s parents. She was Malaysian and spoke with almost no accent. Her partner was a New Zealander. They were discussing where they should settle. The dad was concerned that, if they stayed in Australia, he would be stuck in a sales role his whole life. His partner was informing him that he had responsibilities and couldn’t simply choose what he wanted. ‘You New Zealander’s have no work ethic’ she chastised him. Her parents seemed to have more limited English but every now and then they nodded in agreement with their daughter’s points.

I have to admit, I felt sorry for the bloke. He was chasing his toddler all over the cafe, and each time he returned to grab a sip of his coffee or a bite of his toasted sandwich, the topic had moved on to another of his weaknesses. Occasionally he would offer a word of disagreement, but then his toddler would dash, he would follow, and his wife would continue on topic. So mostly it was his wife talking, and her parents nodding. But I could tell he wasn’t happy. He looked increasingly hurt, and embarrassed as the minutes passed and the topic didn’t change. I was only a metre or two away; I could hear every word.

All the time this was going on, I was unloading my pouch contents onto the table and slowly consuming my coffee. There was a lot of change. I had it piled up in denominations on the table in front of me. It’s amazing how fast $1 and $2 coins add up. It was time well spent. The group beside me had now finished. As they packed up, I heard the dad comment to the others ‘I guess we don’t have it so bad. We’re luckier than that guy trying to scrape together enough coins to pay for his coffee.’ On that, they all agreed.

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

Getting off the train, no ramp

I saw something pretty amazing on the way home from work today.

When I boarded in Chatswood, I noticed another guy in a chair in the cabin. He was tucked between the seats near the guard’s compartment, and as the cabin was quite full, I wondered how he would get out when he needed to. I was also partly blocking the way, so kept an eye on him, ready to move when I sensed he was getting off.

As we pulled into Town Hall Station, he moved, and as many others were getting off too, I didn’t need to make room.

I was looking over his head, expecting the attendant to arrive with the ramp for him to roll off. Then I realised he wasn’t stopping at the door. Smooth as silk, he just lifted his front wheels off the ground, balanced, and lowered himself to the platform below on his back wheels. It was a pretty impressive manoeuvre; one I’d not seen before. As well as strength, it would have taken great control. I can’t imagine the guts required to do it for the first time. Town Hall is one of the biggest drops from train to platform of any station – about 20cm I’d guess. And there’s also the gap – at least 10cm.

As we approach The International Day of People with Disability (3 December) it made we wonder how relevant our definition of ‘disabled’ really is.

Nov 10

Accessible toilets – interesting article in SMH today

Jane Caferella has an interesting article in the SMH today. It’s really about a National Disability Insurance Scheme, but it begins with some observations on non-disabled people using accessible toilets. I’ve joined the discussion, which is quite willing. You can find the article, and the discussion, at:


Here’s my comment…

All you folks who use accessible toilets and say ‘well, the disabled can wait like the rest of us’ are missing the point. You have choices. You can move to another cubicle, or another level in the building, or another building altogether, if you need to. It is an inconvenience, it takes a little time, but that’s the extent of your suffering. People in wheelchairs, and others who need accessible toilets have no such choice. They may have planned for hours, knowing the toilet in that venue is the only one they can use in the area. To arrive, busting, and find that the toilet is occupied, is more than inconvenient. Especially for folks with bladder or bowel urgency.

I’ll admit, I’m less concerned about parents with prams and strollers full of babies and toddlers. Venues should provide parents’ rooms, and when they don’t, I think parents deserve to cut a little slack. 

For those who say ‘I’ve never seen a disabled person using those toilets’, well, I have; many times. But not as often as I’ve been using one myself and had someone pound on the door and tell me to hurry up – only to find an able-bodied person waiting outside when I emerge. I’m constantly surprised by how lacking in guilt their face is.

Simple rule – if you don’t need them, don’t use them. Better still, venues should install the MLAK lock system on accessible toilets. This system is the best guarantee that toilets are not used by people looking only to save time.

Oct 10

Unconscious bias – Diversity Council Australia journal

I was asked to do an interview for the September issue of the quarterly journal Diversity Matters, published by the Diversity Council Australia. You can read the interview, and the rest of the journal, here.

Oct 10

Be Careful What You Wish For

A funny thing happened on Tuesday afternoon. That was the same day I’d had my Heckler article published in the SMH (see Sorry, Mate, below) and, among other topics, had criticised drivers for saying ‘sorry’ to me when I thoughtlessly cross the road in front of them.

I was out walking the dog again, and received a message from my wife that my son was already home from school and waiting at the front door with his driver. I wasn’t far from home, but I wasn’t there, so I had to hurry.

Blossom (the dog) was keen for a run, so we covered the last 2 blocks at full speed, and had only to cross the last road to be at our house. As we crossed the road, in my peripheral vision I could see a car turning into the street, but cars always stop for me. Hell, they stop and apologise for just being on the road. But I’ll admit, I didn’t stop and really look. I kept on and crossed the road.

Now, the car was perhaps a little closer than I had anticipated, but we missed each other comfortably enough. As usual, he wound down his window and shouted several words. ‘Sorry’ was not among them.  It can be hard to discern all the words shouted from a moving car but I caught ‘idiot’ and ‘statistic’, each preceded by an extended form of the most popular four-letter-word in the English language.

I wonder if he’d just finished reading my article. I he had, I’ll call that one an instant success!

Oct 10

Sorry, mate

This piece, previously published on Barrier Free, was Tuesday’s Heckler column in the SMH. Link to it here or read it below.

Why do people constantly apologise to me? If I dash across a road in front of a car, chances are the driver will wind down the window and shout ‘sorry’. If I bump into a pram on a busy street, and wake a baby, the mother will usually say ‘sorry’. If I run over a man’s toe in the isle of a shop, he too will offer ‘sorry’. Sorry for what? Just for being there I guess.

It doesn’t stop at sorry. I also get called ‘mate’ and ‘matey’. Not so bad? Mate is defined by context in Australian English. ‘G’day mate’ is always a relaxed greeting, whereas ‘turn the music down mate’ spoken through a locked screen is one step short of threats of physical violence. With me, it is usually coupled with ‘how are you feeling mate?’. And, when spoken in a gentler tone than regular speech and often accompanied by stroking my hand or a reassuring palm on my shoulder, it feels a little like I’m living in an endless rerun of Andrew Denton’s brilliant 1990 program The Year of the Patronising Bastard.

Now, it’s admission time. I do look a bit odd. Due to my medical condition, I use a wheelchair. Due to weakness in my facial muscles, I have a fixed expression, somewhere between startled and bored. When I think of something funny I let out a big, inexplicable, laugh. I can’t talk.

A few weeks ago, I was walking the dog, using my chair, as I do most days. As I need my good left arm to drive the chair, I walk the dog on my right. A cyclist dashed past, hurrying as if he was late for a Tony Abbott look-alike contest, and shouted to me ‘tiges, you should have her on the left’. Tiges? Short for Tiger I guess. When was the last time you heard a 44–year-old able-bodied man called ‘Tiger’? A while, I suspect.  

My take on all this? I think ‘sorry’ is just a natural reaction to any minor collision or near-miss with a wheelchair. People assume it must be their fault. It’s not, but it’s understandable.  Mate depends on the user and the context. Genuine mates get a pass. But others should be cautious – especially with the tone and the touching. Do you regularly touch pregnant women on the belly without asking? Matey is worse. It’s akin, I think, to men who insist on calling all women ‘girls’ or ‘love’. It’s best avoided.

And my friend in lycra? Sorry, mate, you’re a twerp.

Jul 10

Promoting Livable Housing Design in Australia

Yesterday marked a significant day in access for those of us with mobility limitations. Bill Shorten, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, launched a new voluntary code for ‘Livable’ housing.

While personally I don’t think the code goes nearly far enough, it’s a move in the right direction and should be applauded for what it is.

As soon as I can get hold of a full copy of the guidelines I’ll publish my analysis here.

Until then, I’ll just report the spin and what real information I can find. Here’s Bill Shorten’s media release, which you can also link to here.

Promoting livable housing design in Australia

Leaders of the housing industry, disability sector and community have today agreed to an aspirational target that all new homes will be built to disability-friendly Livable Housing Design standards by 2020.

Today’s announcement is the outcome of the National Dialogue on Universal Design, convened by Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities Bill Shorten last year, to improve the availability of Livable Housing and get industry and disability groups working together to promote it.

The voluntary Livable Housing Design guidelines consist of three levels: Silver, Gold and Platinum and outline the key features required to meet each standard.

Mr Shorten said Livable Design aimed to build houses that could be adapted to meet the changing needs of residents over their lifetime.

He said that it would become increasingly important as Australia’s population aged and disability became more common.

“These are houses which are easier to live in, can be adapted more cheaply, and will be easier to sell,” Mr Shorten said.

“Livable Housing Design is housing which meet the needs of all people, including people with disability and senior Australians,” Mr Shorten said.

“Families with young children, anyone who suffers a temporary injury, or has a friend with disability to stay the night, will also benefit from Livable Design.

“A few simple design features, such as a reinforced bathroom walls, a flat entry to the house and wide corridors and doorways can make a home suitable for an older person or a person with a disability at minimal cost.”

“A Livable house can give a person with disability a life of independence and dignity, and improved their chance of employment and involvement with the community.”

The industry has also agreed to a set of voluntary guidelines for housing, which will be used to inform consumers and the industry about Universal Design, and increase its application.

The Gillard Government will invest $1M over four years to drive an innovate partnership with leaders of the construction and property sectors to promote Livable Housing.

Although the standards are voluntary key industry groups including the Property Council, Master Builders Australia and the Housing Industry Association have supported them and committed to the 2020 target.

They will also provide useful information for consumers seeking to introduce universal design features into a new home and could also be readily applied within an existing home.

Dialogue members have agreed to develop a national awareness campaign and brand for Universal Housing Design.

Property Council CEO Peter Verwer said that developing the guidelines had been a great example of collaboration between the industry and the disability sector.

“Livable Housing has great potential for the future. It has low costs and huge returns both for homeowners and the broader community.”

Australian Bureau of Statistics research shows that between 1981 and 2003, the number of people with a disability more than doubled from 1.9 million to 3.9 million.

The ABS estimates that the number of Australians with disabilities will continue to increase through the first half of this century, due to the ageing of Australia’s population.

The requirements of the Silver standard are as follows:

Silver Standards

  1. A safe and continuous path of travel from the street entrance and/or parking area to a
    dwelling entrance that is level,
  2. At least one level entrance into the dwelling,
  3. Internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement
    between spaces,
  4. A toilet on the ground (or entry) level that provides easy access,
  5. A bathroom that contains a hobless (step-free) shower recess, and
  6. Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grabrails at a later date.

The members of the National Dialogue are:

  • Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Australian Institute of Architects
  • Australian Local Government Association
  • Australian Network for Universal Housing Design
  • COTA Australia
  • Grocon
  • Housing Industry Association
  • Lend Lease
  • Master Builders Australia
  • National People with Disabilities and Carers Council
  • Office of the Disability Council of NSW
  • Property Council of Australia
  • Real Estate Institute of Australia
  • Stockland
  • Victorian Building Commission

Probably the most important document released so far is the The National Dialogue Strategic Plan which is now downloadable from the Property Council’s website, here.

Other coverage and reports today are:

From the Property Council of Australia, a media release.

From Architecture and Design magazine, a piece titled Guidelines for ‘Liveable’ Housing Released — But Voluntary.

There’s a good item in the Domain section of the SMH Online too. You’ll find it here.

I’ll post other links as I find them, but not just news reports, which all seem to say the same.

Happy reading!

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

Sampling the Best of Byron

I know, Byron Bay isn’t what it was. It’s now flashier, more expensive, less … Byron than it was 20 or 30 years ago. But change also has its benefits, especially in terms of improved access. Today, we spent the afternoon in Byron’s main street and out on the point – Cape Byron – and at every stage access was excellent. We had an excellent lunch at the Hare Krishner cafe just off the main drag, where you get kofta, dahl and rice for under $10. There’s a nice ramp to get in and the person behind the counter didn’t flinch at my written order. The outdoor tables where a good height and far apart enough to allow circulation.

From there we moved to Cape Byron to try to spot a few whales. As we drove to the cape, I was delighted to see a good path following the road for the entire distance. I assume it was built for cyclists but it would be ideal for a chair or scooter too. Once on the Cape, there are good paths running up to the lighthouse and down to an accessible toilet, built since the last time I was here, some years ago. There’s also a nice cafe – Cape Cafe – that I don’t recall being here last time. Sitting on Cape Byron, cappuccino in hand, watching five or six whales move slowly north, it’s hard to imagine much is wrong with the world.

Jun 10

Spotted Today in Summer Hill

Where's your sticker?

Now, I don’t mean to say there should not be police with disabilities driving around in patrol cars, but IF there are, this one didn’t have a sticker.

Jun 10

The Long Way Home

This story occurred a few years ago, when I both drove and spoke (though neither especially well). I’ve been meaning to share it for some time. The launch of Barrier Free has given me the forum to finally do so. Enjoy!

The day started simply enough. I needed to visit Concord Hospital to have some stitches removed, so, knowing how bad parking was there, I left my car at home and took a taxi to the hospital, intending to return later to pick it up. I was early, the appointment was on time, and I even found time for a coffee with an old work colleague I ran into in the lobby. I headed out of the lobby and a wheelchair cab was just dropping off a passenger. I was on fire! At this rate I’d be at work early.

As we headed along Concord Road on the 15 minute trip home, the driver saw a car pull out from a side street. He braked hard, perhaps a little harder than was required, and we jolted to a stop. He had just motioned ‘sorry’ to me in the back when we heard the screech of tyres and then felt a hard bang into the back of the taxi. Someone had run up our rear end.  

The driver got out of the taxi and walked to the side where the other driver met him. I heard him say ‘oh, the owner won’t like this mess’. And her reply ‘well, it’s not my fault’. From there the argument started. First shouting, then screaming, then she tried to kick him, then he tried to restrain her. Not a pretty sight. And the two cars are still parked in the middle of the road, while these two nutters go at it and the traffic builds up for miles behind us.

Eventually, the police arrived, first one officer on a motorbike and then a car load. Things eventually calmed down and the officers’ attention turns to me, still sitting (increasingly impatiently) in the back.  

The policewoman spoke to me, slowly, very deliberately and somewhat louder than normal speech (no doubt assuming I was hard of hearing) ‘Sir, you’ve been in an accident. We’ve called an ambulance to take you to be checked at the hospital.’ I explained that I didn’t need an ambulance. I wasn’t hurt. I was just sick of waiting while this mess was sorted out. I needed to get to work. The policewoman then offered to arrange for a taxi to take me to work after the hospital. Again I said no thanks. I needed to go home and get my car. I would drive myself, thanks all the same. ‘You drive, Sir?’

I figured the best solution was for me to simply get out, find another taxi and continue my journey.

It was then that we realised the damage to the rear of the taxi had a terrible consequence. The back hatch would not open and I was stuck.

Eventually, with the help of two police officers and a passer-by, the hatch was opened, and it was reattached sufficiently for the further 10 minutes drive to my house, which was uneventful. As we unloaded, the driver informed me that because of the mess up he’d only charge me $20, rather than the normal fare of $30. My voice was a little worn from talking to the police so much but I think my cry of ‘WHAT!’ was heard in the next suburb. He left without charging me.

Relived it was finally over I loaded my chair into my car and headed off to work. I’d already missed one meeting. I turned off Parramatta Road and into West Street, Petersham, following a tray top van with a load of windows. As I did, a car came out of a side street and collected the window van immediately in front of me. They weren’t going fast, but there was a huge mess and glass everywhere.

Finally, I made it to my office carpark and stopped the car. I needed a moment to compose myself. I realised then that I had the radio tuned to an FM station I never normally listen to. A breathless traffic announcer was giving the wrap-up; talking loud over the chopper noise. ‘Well, it looks like that smash and fracas on Concord Road has finally cleared but now there’s a doozy at West Street Petersham with glass all over the road. You should avoid that one at all costs’. I followed his suggestion.

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 Perils of Being Awake on Trains…

Regular readers will recall that I no longer allow myself to sleep on trains; lest I be declared dead-on-arrival (see The Perils of Sleeping on Trains… posted 10 May 2010). Yesterday, I found a new peril – being awake. As we passed through each station a man in the cabin started asking me if each stop was mine. I shook my head each time; sufficient indication, I thought, that I knew where to get off. Then, at Milson’s Point, he left the train, waited, turned, and came back onto the train. He said to me ‘I’ll stay with you’. I assume he was concerned that I would not be able to get off the train, or find my stop alone, and decided to accompany me to my destination. Whatever his intentions, I decided he was not accompanying me to my office. He spoke little during the rest of the journey, but just before we reached my stop, he took 50c out of his pocket and put it in mine. He said ‘save it, for when you need it’. I tried to give it back, but all my advances were refused. We reached my stop and I exited the train without looking at him. I scooted to the lifts as fast as I could, and out of the station equally fast.

I told several people in my office of the encounter, and each said ‘oh, I guess he meant well’. I’m sure he did. But well-meaning for him was especially irritating for me. I can manage my commute alone. Perhaps I need a sign that says ‘I’m fine thanks’ or if they don’t back off ‘I don’t need any help’.

I’d welcome readers’ views.

May 10

The Perils of Sleeping on Trains…

My train trip to the office takes about 40 minutes. The other day – caused partly by lack of caffeine – I decided to recline my chair and have a quick snooze. Just in case, I set my phone alarm for 30 minutes hence. I was aware of people coming and going from the car as we stopped at stations, so I must have been sleeping very lightly. I could hear people around me talking. Then, I heard one say ‘do you think he’s dead?’. I was surprised, amused, but chose not to open my eyes. As we pulled into Central, one of the chatterers jumped off the train and alerted an attendant – there was a dead man in a wheelchair on the train! This broke me out of my slumber, and I was very much awake. And alive. But it was too late. Railway staff were everywhere. I was asked by everyone if I now felt ok. I was told the ambulance was on the way. Thoroughly flustered, I managed to type ‘I am fine. I was ASLEEP’ and showed it to anyone who would look. Things calmed down, and everyone left. I closed my eyes, but not to sleep. I just wanted to be left alone.

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