August, 2010

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.

Aug 10

Accessible kitchen design

I’ve been preparing a piece on accessible kitchens and found a recent article from the US that I thought was worth posting in its own right. It’s from the Minneapolis – St. Paul Star Tribune and you can read it here.  I know when I was designing our kitchen, decent, practical articles were tough to find.

Aug 10

Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

This story will appear in a different form in the excellent magazine Out & About With Kids. Visit

A visit to Western Plains Zoo, in Dubbo, is almost a right of childhood. Since taking delivery of a wheelchair accessible van, we determined to take our kids – Mary, 10, and Daniel, 8. But when one member of the family (me) uses a wheelchair, and another (Daniel) has autism, it takes more than determination to make such a trip happen. It takes planning, a sense of humour and a bit of luck.  

After a lengthy search, we found an accessible cabin in the Big 4 Parklands caravan park. It had everything we needed, as well as being less than 2km from the zoo. There’s a pleasant pool, and an incredibly popular jumping pillow. The grounds are all accessible—there’s even accessible camping (with shared accessible bathroom facilities).

In Dubbo, we were joined by family friends and their three kids. Don’t let anyone tell you teenagers are sullen and unhelpful! When it comes to chasing an adventurous 8-year-old, who has no sense of danger, a fit 16-year-old is an absolute Godsend. Patrick, as well as his brother Ivan and sister Niamh, were amazing in their ability to engage with Daniel, which was as refreshing as it was helpful.

Photo by Julia Loughran

It rained most of our first day in Dubbo. The next day, as we ventured to the zoo at 6am for the early morning feeding tour we thought it might end in disaster. I had visions of my wheelchair bogged in the mud. Surprisingly, though it was quite muddy, and most paths are dirt, nothing was impassable. We were able to access all exhibits and, more importantly, see all the animals.

The morning tour is great because you have an experienced guide and see the animals when they are most active. Despite the best efforts of our guide to keep us together, Daniel decided to explore a less-trodden path. My wife, Ruth, and Patrick gave chase.  By the time they caught him, the group had moved on and they were lost. It’s at this point you realise how big the zoo really is. Aided by phone instructions from our amazed guide ‘how did you get there…’ they eventually met us at the end of the tour. They saw parts of the zoo the public never sees!

The zoo is impressive. Most enclosures are surrounded by water, meaning there is uninterrupted viewing of animals from every angle. Because most animals won’t cross the water barrier, fences are light and the animals come right up to you.

Photo by Julia Loughran

Before we went, people had warned us ‘other than the zoo, there’s nothing in Dubbo’. We didn’t find that to be true at all.

The city of Dubbo is incredibly accessible. In the main street I couldn’t find any shop with stepped entry, which is great for prams as well as wheelchairs. It helps that the geography is flat, but you can also see there’s been a conscious effort to remove steps, which is to be commended.

The Old Dubbo Gaol is an excellent attraction and well worth the $10 entry. It also has surprisingly good access for a heritage building. We especially enjoyed the lifelike animatronic models which tell stories of famous inmates. It’s an enjoyable two hours.

Dubbo is also blessed with some very attractive parks, walks and cycling tracks. Elston Park (also known as the Water Park) had water spraying equipment that was of great interest to Daniel.

Despite best laid plans, the combination of a father using a wheelchair and a son with autism can lead to some interesting events. Such as the morning Mary and I were watching Daniel on the jumping pillow and he got away from us, darted into a nearby caravan (unseen even by the owners, who were eating breakfast in the annex) and emerged with cheeky grin and two Easter eggs. You can only apologise, explain as best you can and move on.

Caravan parks are friendly places and people tend to understand you are doing your best.  The Big 4 Parklands in Dubbo is no exception. It was the perfect base for a great family holiday.

Aug 10

Andrew Peacock’s comments today

In the daily churn of news stories in an election campaign, I’m not sure how widely reported this will be, but Andrew Peacock was campaigning today in his old seat of Kooyong and said:

“You’d need to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate that this [Labor] government is dissolving before your eyes daily.”

That the Labor candidate in Kooyong is legally blind only makes his statement even more appalling.

You can read the whole story in the SMH Online edition here.

However, Peacock is a has-been, and what he thinks is pretty irrelevant. That’s not the case with the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. Abbott apparently thinks access and mobility issues are pretty low on the pecking order.

In making remarks about improving parliamentary proceedings, the federal Opposition Leader said:

“…to make sure that we go straight out of Question Time into the matter of public importance debate without waffly ministerial statements on things like the accessibility of cinemas. So I will change or I will seek to have the standing orders changed.”

I can see several sources reporting that he has now apologised for the statement. He was reported as saying:

“I was misinformed about that particular statement. It was a poor example to use. And I’m sorry if I have caused any offence.”

Personally, I’d have liked him to retract the statement. It’s not a lot to say “Clearly, I do not think providing access to cinemas is waffle.”  If, of course, that’s true.

Aug 10

20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

It was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act a few days ago. Here are President Obama’s remarks, which can also be found here.

Remarks by the President on 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

South Lawn

6:26 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Good evening, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Well, we have a gorgeous day to celebrate an extraordinary event in the life of this nation.  Welcome, all of you, to our White House.  And thank you, Robert, for the wonderful introduction.  It is a pleasure and honor to be with all of you on the 20th anniversary of one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country — the Americans with Disabilities Act.  (Applause.)

I see so many champions of this law here today.  I wish I had time to acknowledge each and every one of you.  I want to thank all of you.  But I also want to thank our Cabinet Secretaries and the members of my administration here today who are working to advance the goals of the ADA so that it is not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, that’s being applied all across this country.  (Applause.)

I want to thank the members of Congress in attendance who fought to make ADA possible and to keep improving it throughout the years.  (Applause.)  I want to acknowledge Dick Thornburgh, who worked hard to make this happen as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush.  (Applause.)

And by the way, I had a chance to speak to President Bush before I came out here, and he sends heartfelt regards to all of you.  And it’s — he’s extraordinarily proud of the law that was passed.  He was very humble about his own role, but I think it’s worth acknowledging the great work that he did.  (Applause.)

We also remember those we’ve lost who helped make this law possible — like our old friend, Ted Kennedy.  (Applause.)  And I see Patrick here.  And Justin Dart, Jr., a man folks call the father of the ADA — whose wife Yoshiko, is here.  (Applause.)  Yoshiko, so nice to see you.  (Applause.)

I also notice that Elizabeth Dole is here, and I had a chance to speak to Bob Dole, as well, and thank him for the extraordinary role that he played in advancing this legislation.  (Applause.)

Let me also say that Congressman Jim Langevin wanted to be here today, but he’s currently presiding over the House chamber — the first time in our history somebody using a wheelchair has done so.  (Applause.)

Today, as we commemorate what the ADA accomplished, we celebrate who the ADA was all about.  It was about the young girl in Washington State who just wanted to see a movie at her hometown theater, but was turned away because she had cerebral palsy; or the young man in Indiana who showed up at a worksite, able to do the work, excited for the opportunity, but was turned away and called a cripple because of a minor disability he had already trained himself to work with; or the student in California who was eager and able to attend the college of his dreams, and refused to let the iron grip of polio keep him from the classroom — each of whom became integral to this cause.

And it was about all of you.  You understand these stories because you or someone you loved lived them.  And that sparked a movement.  It began when Americans no longer saw their own disabilities as a barrier to their success, and set out to tear down the physical and social barriers that were.  It grew when you realized you weren’t alone.  It became a massive wave of bottom-up change that swept across the country as you refused to accept the world as it was.  And when you were told, no, don’t try, you can’t he — you responded with that age-old American creed:  Yes, we can.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, we can!

Sit-ins in San Francisco.  Demonstrations in Denver.  Protests in Washington, D.C., at Gallaudet, and before Congress.  People marched, and organized, and testified.  And laws changed, and minds changed, and progress was won.  (Applause.)  

Now, that’s not to say it was easy.  You didn’t always have folks in Washington to fight on your behalf.  And when you did, they weren’t as powerful, as well-connected, as well-funded as the lobbyists who lined up to kill any attempt at change.  And at first, you might have thought, what does anyone in Washington know or care about my battle?  But what you knew from your own experience is that disability touches us all.  If one in six Americans has a disability, then odds are the rest of us love somebody with a disability.

I was telling a story to a group that was in the Oval Office before I came out here about Michelle’s father who had MS.  By the time I met him, he had to use two canes just to walk.  He was stricken with MS when he was 30 years old, but he never missed a day of work; had to wake up an hour early to get dressed —


THE PRESIDENT:  — to get to the job, but that was his attitude — so what.  He could do it.  Didn’t miss a dance recital.  Did not miss a ball game of his son.  Everybody has got a story like that somewhere in their family.

And that’s how you rallied an unlikely assortment of leaders in Congress and in the White House to the cause.  Congressmen like Steny Hoyer, who knew his wife Judy’s battle with epilepsy; and Tony Coehlo, who waged his own; and Jim Sensenbrenner, whose wife, Cheryl, is a tremendous leader and advocate for the community.  And they’re both here today.  (Applause.)

Senators like Tom Harkin, who’s here today, and who signed — (applause) — who signed part of a speech on the ADA so his deaf brother, Frank, would understand.  And Ted Kennedy, whose sister had a severe intellectual disability and whose son lost a leg to cancer.  And Bob Dole, who was wounded serving heroically in World War II.  Senior officials in the White House, and even the President himself.

They understood this injustice from the depths of their own experience.  They also understood that by allowing this injustice to stand, we were depriving of our nation — we were depriving our nation and our economy of the full talents and contributions of tens of millions of Americans with disabilities.

That is how the ADA came to be, when, to his enduring credit, President George H.W. Bush signed it into law, on this lawn, on this day, 20 years ago.  That’s how you changed America.  (Applause.)

Equal access — to the classroom, the workplace, and the transportation required to get there.  Equal opportunity — to live full and independent lives the way we choose.  Not dependence — but independence.  That’s what the ADA was all about.  (Applause.)

But while it was a historic milestone in the journey to equality, it wasn’t the end.  There was, and is, more to do.  And that’s why today I’m announcing one of the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment in 1991.

Today, the Department of Justice is publishing two new rules protecting disability-based discrimination — or prohibiting disability-based discrimination by more than 80,000 state and local government entities, and 7 million private businesses.  (Applause.)  And beginning 18 months from now, all new buildings must be constructed in a way that’s compliant with the new 2010 standards for the design of doors and windows and elevators and bathrooms — (applause) — buildings like stores and restaurants and schools and stadiums and hospitals and hotels and theaters.  (Applause.)

My predecessor’s administration proposed these rules six years ago.  And in those six years, they’ve been improved upon with more than 4,000 comments from the public.  We’ve heard from all sides.  And that’s allowed us to do this in a way that makes sense economically and allows appropriate flexibility while ensuring Americans with disabilities full participation in our society.

And for the very first time, these rules will cover recreational facilities like amusement parks and marinas and gyms and golf facilities and swimming pools — (applause) — and municipal facilities like courtrooms and prisons.  (Applause.)  From now on, businesses must follow practices that allow individuals with disabilities an equal chance to purchase tickets for accessible seating at sporting events and concerts.  (Applause.)

And our work goes on.  Even as we speak, Attorney General Eric Holder is preparing new rules to ensure accessibility of websites.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Yes, we can.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, we can.

We’re also placing a new focus on hiring Americans with disabilities across the federal government.  (Applause.)  Today, only 5 percent of the federal workforce is made up of Americans with disabilities — far below the proportion of Americans with disabilities in the general population.  In a few moments, I’ll sign an executive order that will establish the federal government as a model employer of individuals with disabilities.  (Applause.)  So we’re going to boost recruitment, we’re going to boost training, we’re going to boost retention.  We’ll better train hiring managers.  Each agency will have a senior official who’s accountable for achieving the goals we’ve set.  And I expect regular reports.  And we’re going to post our progress online so that you can hold us accountable, too.  (Applause.)

And these new steps build on the progress my administration has already made.

To see it that no one who signs up to fight for our country is ever excluded from its promise, we’ve made major investments in improving the care and treatment for our wounded warriors.  (Applause.)  To ensure full access to participation in our democracy and our economy, we’re working to make all government websites accessible to persons with disabilities.  (Applause.)

We’re expanding broadband Internet access to Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.  We’ve followed through with a promise I made to create three new disability offices at the State Department and Department of Transportation and at FEMA.

And to promote equal rights across the globe, the United States of America joined 140 other nations in signing the U.N.  Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.  (Applause.)

America was the first nation on Earth to comprehensively declare equality for its citizens with disabilities.  We should join the rest of the world to declare it again — and when I submit our ratification package to Congress, I expect passage to be swift.  (Applause.)

And to advance the right to live independently, I launched the Year of Community Living, on the 10th anniversary of the Olmstead decision — a decision that declared the involuntary institutional isolation of people with disabilities unlawful discrimination under the ADA.  (Applause.)

So HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan have worked together to improve access to affordable housing and community supports and independent living arrangements for people with disabilities.  And we continued a program that successfully helps people with disabilities transition to the community of their choice.  (Applause.)  And I’m proud of the work that the Department of Justice is doing to enforce Olmstead across the country.

And we’ve finally broken down one discriminatory barrier that the ADA left in place.  Because for too long, our health care system denied coverage to tens of millions of Americans with preexisting conditions — including Americans with disabilities.  It was time to change that.  And we did.  Yes, we did.  (Applause.)

So the Affordable Care Act I signed into law four months ago will give every American more control over their health care -– and it will do more to give Americans with disabilities control over their own lives than any legislation since the ADA.  I know many of you know the frustration of fighting with an insurance company.  That’s why this law finally shifts the balance of power from them to you and to other consumers.  (Applause.)

No more denying coverage to children based on a preexisting condition or disability.  No more lifetime limits on coverage.  No more dropping your coverage when you get sick and need it the most because your insurance company found an unintentional error in your paperwork.  (Applause.)  And because Americans with disabilities are living longer and more independently, this law will establish better long-term care choices for Americans with disabilities as a consequence of the CLASS Act, an idea Ted Kennedy championed for years.  (Applause.)

Equal access.  Equal opportunity.  The freedom to make our lives what we will.  These aren’t principles that belong to any one group or any one political party.  They are common principles.  They are American principles.  No matter who we are — young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled or not — these are the principles we cherish as citizens of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

They were guaranteed to us in our founding documents.  One of the signers of those documents was a man named Stephen Hopkins.  He was a patriot, a scholar, a nine-time governor of Rhode Island.  It’s also said he had a form of palsy.  And on July 4, 1776, as he grasped his pen to sign his name to the Declaration of Independence, he said, “My hand trembles.  But my heart does not.”  My hand trembles.  But my heart does not.

Life, liberty,  the pursuit of happiness.  Words that began our never-ending journey to form a more perfect union.  To look out for one another.  To advance opportunity and prosperity for all of our people.  To constantly expand the meaning of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.  To move America forward.  That’s what we did with the ADA.  That is what we do today.  And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow — together.

So, thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  Let me sign this order.  (Applause.)

                                     END                          6:44 P.M. EDT

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