November, 2010

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

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.

Nov 10

Willowview Farmstay, near Marulan, NSW

We were looking for somewhere to stay within reach of Burrawang, and had a tough time finding anything. Links House, in Bowral, was an option, but it really wasn’t suitable for a young family. It looked lovely for a quiet weekend away. Eventually, we settled on Ferndale Cottage at Willowview Farmstay, just out of Brayton, on the border of the Southern Highlands and the Tablelands: 40 minutes from Bowral and 20 minutes from Goulburn.

Farmstays can work well for us. It’s a different environment, because we live in the city; the kids can explore and have some space around them; and they are usually incredibly quiet places. 

Set on one hundred and thirty acres by the Wollondilly River, the late 19th century cottage Ferndale offers uninterrupted views of the property and escarpment beyond, as well as a whole host of activities.

Ferndale at Willowview

The access and disabled facilities are pretty good too. It’s not perfect, but owner Jan Scali has made a good effort to turn an historic farmhouse into an accessible facility.

The shower is especially well designed, with a very solid bench seat, plenty of space and well positioned rails. The rails for the toilet were, however, a bit limited and need some attention.

The house is nearly all accessible, though sometimes via circuitous routes. There is a large step going from the lounge to the hall leading to the veranda. You access the veranda by going out the front door and down the side of the house. There is also a step down into one bedroom and at one entrance to the bathroom. But these things are understandable in a building of its age, and the steps taken to work around them are largely successful.

The entrance to the house is simple and well designed. You park around the back and the entry is smooth, though slightly hilly.

The only lack of access that irritated me was the brick platform surrounding the stove. It meant I couldn’t get close enough to the stove to cook.

Another extra is that the farm is pet friendly. There is an enclosure with room enough for any dog to enjoy all the comforts of home.

We had prior arrangements which meant we couldn’t sample the range of activities on offer, but they include swimming in the river, fishing, horse riding, bushwalking and much more. It would have been nice to stay longer. We did have time to relax on the veranda and enjoy the magnificent view.

In all, Willowview is a welcome addition to the range of accessible properties and an example of how many holiday locations can be amde accessible with a little effort. While the access isn’t perfect, there has been an honest attempt to make it as accessible as the limitations of the property allow. Jan Scali should be applauded for her efforts.

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.

Nov 10

Wildfire Restaurant at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal

A recent farewell for a colleague and friend who is moving overseas gave me an opportunity to dine at Wildfire for the first time. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

Opened in 2002 and situated in Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal, Wildfire takes advantage of the rich history of Sydney’s Rocks district. The view is truly stunning; I could have looked out on the Opera House and Harbour all night and not bothered with dinner. The only thing that detracts from this world famous view is the infamous ‘toaster’ (known formally as Opera Quays) sitting like an ill-formed lump to the right of the Opera House. When you stroll the very pleasant shops and eateries of Opera Quays you really don’t get a sense of just how ugly it is. Wildfire gives a perfect perspective to do that, and to see, like all architectural monstrosities, how badly it has aged in just 10 years.

You enter Wildfire from the rear, which is flat entry. There’s a curb ramp just to the left of the entry, so access from the street or parking spaces is simple. It’s also a simple, and very pleasant, wheel around from Circular Quay Station (also accessible) if you choose to come by train.

Inside Wildfire

The interior of Wildfire is quite stunning. The main dining room is large and luxurious, with high ceilings, adorned with chandeliers. As a large group, we were seated at a long table, and it was this table that first impressed me. It was high enough for me to get under in my powerchair. For once I didn’t need to eat dinner on my lap while seated a metre out from the table. While I’m sure this is just a happy coincidence rather than design, it’s no coincidence that there’s also plenty of circulation space. The place is built on a grand scale and that works for me.

The accessible bathroom is also well designed and very functional. Most importantly, it’s easy to get to, located just to the right of the main entry. There are few things more irritating in a restaurant than needing to ask multiple tables of diners to move to allow you to get your wheelchair through to visit the bathroom. Once there, the door opens inwards, the rails are positioned well, and there’s good circulation space. Everything is within reach and functional. My only gripe was that the door had one of those clever ‘butterfly’ locks that (for me at least) never work.

The menu is contemporary Australian, and consists mostly of grills, wood-fired meats and rotisseries. For this vegetarian, that was slightly confronting. Our host had (in advance) chosen a Brazilian-inspired ‘Churrasco’ menu featuring a selection of spit-roasted seafood and meats. However, the three of us in the group who were vegetarian were well catered for with an excellent Mushroom Risotto and several rounds of tasty vegetarian starters. Dessert was to die for, with very traditional European selections of chocolate mousse, tiramisu, crème brulee and more.  

Wildfire presents a fine dining experience of culinary and service excellence, a wonderful wine list and acute attention to service detail – all packaged in a magnificent location and venue with great access. It’s a perfect choice for those times you want to show off the best of Sydney to your visitors.

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