Posts Tagged: access

Jul 11

Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe, Circular Quay


If you enjoy chocolate and good coffee, this is a must-visit. It is located at Shop 10, Opera Quays, so the view, as you’d expect, is wonderful. You can sit indoors or outside. With a group, I’ve always preferred outside, but there’s good circulation space inside too and a number of smaller tables if you’re sitting alone. The entry, like most shops in the Opera Quays, is flat.

While the primary food served is sweet, especially chocolate, you can also have a light meal including salads, ciabatta and savory pastries. They serve an incredible Dark Chocolate Milkshake ($9) which is truly to die for. The coffee is good too, mild, but very drinkable, and the cappuccino is served at the right temperature. And the sprinkle of Guylian Chocolate on top certainly helps.

The accessible bathroom is excellent, with good circulation space and sufficient room under the sink to really get under. Everything is easy to reach, the door locks simply and there’s even pleasant music piped in. Circular Quay and the Opera House precinct is really lacking accessible bathroom facilities. For the price of a coffee or great milkshake, this cafe offers an excellent addition.

It’s highly recommended.

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.

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.

Sep 10

Byron Bay Rainforest Resort

Byron Bay Rainforest Resort – originally known as ‘The Wheel Resort’ – is somewhere I had long wanted to stay, but never had the opportunity. At last, a driving holiday to Queensland, to experience the ‘Worlds’ on the Gold Coast, provided that opportunity. We stayed 10 days, and enjoyed our visit immensely.

There are nine self-contained cottages set in the seclusion of 35 acres of remnant coastal rainforest, 3km from Byron Bay and only 300 metres from the ocean. Three are one-bedroom cottages and six are studios. We stayed in two different one-bedrooms and one studio. The one-bedroom cottages are certainly my preference. The extra space, and being able to put all of our gear somewhere out of the way made a big difference.

Interestingly, the cabins are all different, with quite different standards of access, though all have wide doorways, no steps, handrails in the bathroom and several cottages have lowered kitchen benches.

Owner and host, Murray Carter, tells me that the cottages were built over a period of time and some have been renovated since, which explains the variation. Murray is happy to discuss a guest’s specific needs and locate them in the best cottage for them if possible. My vote would go to cottage 8 as the most accessible, and I would ask for it again when next we return.

Cottage 8 has well positioned rails for both the shower and toilet. The shower head can be set high or low, which is a great idea. I was able to transfer to the toilet, back to my chair and onto the shower chair unassisted, which is a big achievement. The kitchen faces the same design challenges of every accessible kitchen (storage v bench usability) but in my view gets it right. And while the benches are high, because you can wheel under them, they can be used to cook or wash up. The floor is cork which is great when I drop things – they bounce rather than break!

I found cottage 2 the least accessible of the three we stayed in. In the bathroom, the rails were too short and the sink too high to use. The mirror was also too high for shaving. The shower can only be set at one height (too high) or hand held. We also stayed in cottage 6, which was in between in terms of access. My advice is to book early and talk to Murray before you arrive to ensure you get the cottage most suited to your needs.

One word of warning. The water in the bathrooms is HOT. Start with the cold and add some hot water, not the other way around.

The whole place has a very relaxed tone. Well behaved dogs are welcome. All the staff were friendly and very helpful – especially Murray who has owned the resort since 1995. We found him to be always around and very attentive, but he seems to implicitly understand some guests like to spend time alone. When we arrived (quite late at night) we expected to find everything shut up for the night, and a key left for us. Amazingly, he was there waiting, and helped us with our luggage and to get settled – a huge bonus. When we needed to move cabins, he moved all of our gear – without us even asking.

The grounds have excellent, smooth, clear paths leading between cabins, and decent dirt tracks to the beach and deep into the bush. Though a relatively busy road is nearby, the place is very quiet – sheltered by large stands of native trees. The resort property consists mainly of wetlands with extensive stands of large Melaleucas, stands of Bottlebrush, Banksias and littoral rainforest. There’s also a variety of birdlife.

The swimming pool is a special feature; a lovely 20m pool with gentle ramp and a sturdy rail. This is the first time I’ve seen a resort pool with such an entry. To me, hoists just add indignity to entering a pool. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never used a hoist in a calm, relaxed fashion. It’s a physical process. If more pools had ramps, I’m sure I’d swim more often. Unfortunately, the days we spent in Byron coincided with the coldest weather SE Australia has had in years. Pools in Byron Bay don’t normally need heating (and this one isn’t heated), but during our 10 day stay, I wish it had been.

There’s also a pleasant and very warm spa, which has a hoist. The Cabana, attached to the pool, is a good place to relax, play pool or cards, read a book, cook a group meal, or sit by the fire in winter. I could imagine if you were travelling with a group and occupying several cottages, this would be an excellent meeting point.

Next door to the resort (a short wheel along a pleasant bush track) there is an excellent little shop/grocer where you can buy general supplies, a few delicacies and fresh fruit and veggies. If it sold good coffee, it would be perfect! The nearest coffee is in Byron – a drive.

There are shared free laundry facilities and free WiFi.

Murray is careful not to raise expectations that his resort is any kind of haven for people with disabilities. He knows well that everyone’s needs are different. And of course there are things I would change about each cottage we stayed in. But overall, Byron Bay Rainforest Resort is a wonderfully peaceful and very accessible retreat where you can relax and revitalize. We found it hard to leave!

Sep 10

Wheelchair access to new Waratah trains in NSW

There’s some controversy today over the boarding procedures for the new Waratah trains, to be delivered to RailCorp in NSW starting in late 2010.

Wheelchair-users will have to flash cards to board trains

  • Wheelchair-users forced to wave cards
  • They will have to wait at end of platforms
  • Move slammed as “embarrassing”

A RAIL operator wants commuters in wheelchairs to wave a “high-visibility” card to warn train guards they need a boarding ramp.

Disability groups are outraged that wheelchair-bound passengers in Sydney will now have to wait towards the end of the train platform – without shelter or safety lighting – in a so-called BAZ area (boarding assistant zone).

Read the full article here.

I note that much of the criticism stems from the proposal for ‘wheelchair bound’ passengers to carry a flag or card to alert station staff or guards to their need to board. Personally, I’m not overly bothered by that. Because I don’t speak, I already carry a series of tags around my neck, stating where I want to go and what train I want to catch. Another (and one that is universally recognised by staff) is no big deal for me.

However… I also see that the new Waratah trains will have the guard in the rear cabin of the train. To me, that seems a major error. Currently, at most stations, wheelchair users are assisted to board by the station staff, not the guard. You need to go to the platform office and bang on the door to get attention and they bring out the ramp. Most platform offices are located (sensibly) in the middle of the platform. And guards are located in the middle cabin. That makes it a very short wheel from the office to the train. But now, we will have to alert the staff, and then push our way back down the full length of the platform to the guard’s cabin. On a busy platform, with many people rushing to board, this is going to be slow, hazardous and impractical.

I suspect what will happen is that wheelchair users will be asked to wait for the next train if times are tight or we will continue boarding in the middle carriage, far distant from the guard. Neither is a good option. Being distant from the guard increases the chance of being left on the train when your stop comes, and if you are not near the guard’s cabin, it’s very hard to alert them to the problem. Security too, is better near the guard’s cabin.

The end of 2010 is fast approaching. This needs some quick attention.

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

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

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Free-flight bird show

A visit to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, 8km north of Coolangatta, isn’t part of the regular ‘worlds’ circuit. But that doesn’t make it boring day out – far from it. With hundreds of native Australian animals on display in natural bushland and rainforest settings, Currumbin provides a rare opportunity to get up close to some amazing native wildlife. Upon arrival, we watched the excellent Free-flight bird show, where everything from pelicans to wedge-tailed eagles were on display.

Set within 27 hectares of lush eucalypt and rainforest, there are tens of kilometres of paths, trails and boardwalks. While these are all, in principle, accessible, unless you are in a power chair or scooter, or else in pretty good shape, some of the higher walks would be very challenging. They are very steep, and often unrelenting. In the power chair, however, I found them fun. The rewards are significant too. The boardwalk takes you through subtropical and tropical averies where the birds are quite beautiful. Note also that that many of these averies are ‘double gated’ – you need to close one gate before opening the second. I found coordinating this tricky in the chair and was appreciative of help.

There are a number of trails around the Green Challenge circuit marked ‘pedestrian access only’; these I found only passable with great care. For those sticking to the lower tracks, there’s still plenty to do and see. I’d especially recommend the kangaroo enclosure, just beyond the Green Challenge circuit.

There’s also a train that circumnavigates the sanctuary, and while it can carry a wheelchair, you need to be able to transfer into a seat.

Accessible toilets are dotted throughout the sanctuary (not MLAK) and are clean, useable and well maintained.

Green Challenge

If you (or more likely your kids) are looking for exhilaration the Green Challenge high ropes adventure course has giant flying foxes and a tarzan swing. The Green Challenge takes participants higher and further into this spectacular natural setting. Of great interest to parents waiting at the bottom, there’s excellent coffee at the base station cafe.

For smaller kids, the Wild Safari playground offers excellent options. There’s a flying fox, a series of tunnels, a spider’s web and various climbing equipment.

Overall, I think it’s well worth a day trip to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s an interesting, active, educational, and accessible day out.

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

June Opie Cottage, Christmas Cove Caravan Park, Laurieton, NSW

The outlook

When you arrive at Christmas Cove Caravan Park near dark, as we did, it’s not an inspiring sight. It looks rough, with several dead caravans littering the landscape. I feel it’s seen better days. Likewise, June Opie Cottage, with broken tiles in the bathroom, a slightly stale smell and a very 1970s feel about it, is nothing to write home about. But to only see these things is to miss the real beauty of the place. June Opie Cottage has a setting that is really quite lovely in daylight. From the verandah, you look out at a scene of remarkable tranquility. I envied the lone fisherman out in his small punt, on a perfect early morning, maybe 500 meters from shore.

When you look closely at the access setup in June Opie Cottage, it’s actually pretty clever. For a place clearly designed 40 years ago, there are some nice touches. Open shelves and recessed kick boards in the kitchen for a start. And nice ideas like putting the tap at the front of the sink, where I can reach it!

The hallways and doors (all sliding) are wide, allowing easy circulation and turning, even in my big powerchair.

The bathroom isn’t much to look at but it works. The bars are in the right places and there’s (just) enough room to get around. You can tell someone using a chair lived here long term. This is a practical setup, not an architect’s design.

I went for a big wheel around the grounds and it’s all pretty good. You share the road with cars but it’s very quiet. There are more residents here than visitors, I suspect, at least mid-week, when we were here. Aside from some deep gutters and high speed humps, the roads are easily usable by a wheelchair, as are some of the walking paths.

Now, it’s time to pack up and head for Byron Bay.

Jun 10


Bulahdelah seems a pleasant country town, set on the banks of the Myall River, 2 1/2 hours from Sydney, and the spot we’d had recommended by our NRMA serviceman as having a great bakery. We decided to stop, let the kids have a play in Wade Park, and use the public facilities there, which my iPad National Public Toilet Map app had told me were accessible. The Public Toilet Map is a brilliant tool, but even it can’t deal with just plain dumb facilities usage. You see, the problem was that the accessible toilet was locked. Not with an MLAK key, just locked from the inside, so no-one had access. Perhaps they were out of order (though as the only accessible loos in town that should be very rare). Perhaps the lock had been vandalised, though that’s still not excusable, as there should be regular inspections by council. Whatever the reason, it’s not good enough.

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

Australian Girls Choir Winter Showcase – The Hills Centre, Castle Hill

Looking from upstairs

The Australian Girls Choir is probably best known for their role in Qantas TV ads, singing ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ but the Winter Showcase Concert is one of two major performances the full choir does each year. It’s mostly a family affair, but easily of a quality outsiders could attend and enjoy. We always look forward to this show, not least because our daughter is a committed chorister and has been part of the choir for five years. This year was an exceptionally professional production once again, with a blend of choreographed performances of popular songs and more traditional pieces.

As a venue, The Hills Centre, in Carrington Rd, Castle Hill, is pretty good. There are only two disabled parking spaces, both in front of the main entrance. However, there is plenty of room to set down passengers on the main roundabout entrance. If you can, it’s a good idea to take advantage of this, because while there’s plenty of parking further away, you have to wheel on the road to get back – there’s no footpath and no shortcut.

Entry to the foyer is flat and very straightforward. The accessible toilet (only one) is to the left of the foyer and the lifts are immediately on your right. I’m not sure if wheelchair patrons are ever seated upstairs – on each occasion we’ve been we have sat on the floor level.

The wheelchair seating on ground level is good, with clear, unobstructed viewing and good sightlines. On this occasion we were offered the end of the 2nd row, but after the performance started, I moved to the 3rd row, which gave a slightly better angle.

The accessible toilet has solid rails but they are really too short to be much use. Perhaps they satisfy the Australian Standard but in my view they need to be longer for someone transferring alone. The basin is possible to wheel under (if you don’t mind bumping your knees) and the soap and dryer are within reach (though a bit of a stretch).There’s a sliding door but unfortunately, as I find with most sliding toilet doors, they soon go out of alignment and become impossible to lock, like this one. It appears that an electromagnetic lock had been installed but it didn’t work, at least not for me. The toilet doubles as a baby change room, meaning it can be in demand, especially at family shows.

In summary, The Hills Centre is a good place to see performances, but they really need to do some work on the accessible toilet and consider making all parking spaces at the front disabled only.

Jun 10

Disability Rocks Concert – Sunday, 1 August at 3pm


The Great Jim Conway

At the Seymour Centre on Sunday, 1 August 2010

Show you’re Mad as Hell about Australia’s current dysfunctional disability system and support lasting change for people with disability, their families and carers at a great afternoon of jazz, blues, dance and politics.

How better to spend a winter’s Sunday afternoon than lounging back to Blues, Jump and Swing; reveling in funky Dance moves of young performers, and listening to inspirational speakers intent on improving the disability service system in Australia?

Featuring entertainment from Jim Conway’s Big Wheel, The James Valentine Quartet and Studio Artes dance troupe and singers.

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

Inaccessible Pedestrian Environment in Delhi: An Essay by Shivani Gupta Before the Commonwealth Games

This excellent essay was written by Shivani Gupta, the Director of AccessAbility, a leading Universal Design and Disability Employment Specialist, based in New Delhi. It is reproduced here with permission.

In the flurry of preparing Delhi for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, Delhi has been revamped. There is the new BRT Corridor, the low floor buses, huge overhead bridges, accessible pathways and the swanky metro. All of these have accessibility incorporated in them. I should feel fortunate being a wheelchair user that now public transport and the pedestrian environments is accessible to me. But the unfortunate reality is that none of these so called accessible facilities are really accessible to the disabled and hence have not brought the desired mobility. Money is being spent in the name of accessibility but what we have really got are ‘teasers’. ‘Teasers’ being my way of describing facilities that are signposted as being accessible but are not usable by disabled people in reality.

Usability is the first and the basic requirement of accessibility and it is here that all these fail. Usability goes beyond blindly putting on ground accessibility standards, it is about how a user will actually interface with the given service/facility/infrastructure etc. it may also vary based on the social context, therefore what may be a working design in a developed country may not be so in a developing country. To increase usability is also the crux of Universal Design.

Just yesterday I went out on my wheelchair and thought of crossing to the other side from the overhead foot bridges that have been built all over Delhi. The bridge is about seven meters high with a ramp 89 meters long of 1:12 gradient to get onto the bridge and the same ramp on the opposite side. 

In India most people will say “there is a ramp to get on and off the bridge and that to 1:12 gradient, then what more do you want?” What they fail to see is that a wheelchair user will need to wheel two hundred meters, that too up and down a ramp to cross just a 10 meter wide road. So it’s 10 meters verses 200 meters.

Major Design Flaws:

  • To provide a ramp to negotiate a level difference of more than 3 meters is impractical and not usable by the disabled and here it is more than double that height.
  • A ramp to negotiate a level difference of more than 3 meters must have a gradient no more than 1:18 here the gradient is 1:12
  • Landings must be provided after every five meters, here landing is provided after 40 meters.

I am sure even athletes using wheelchairs will find negotiating this ramp difficult!

Here I will also like to point out that accessible parking is demanded & provided closest to the entrance to ensure that disabled car drivers and passengers do not need to walk extra, but when it comes to pedestrian environments adding 200 meters to the journey is reasonable. Why this disparity?

A recent press release by the Delhi Metro said that there ‘Delhi Metro provides wheelchair facility to old and physically challenged commuters at all Metro stations. On an average, 149 physically challenged people and 78 blind commuters use the Metro system daily’ and ‘On an average, it is carrying about 800,000 commuters everyday.’ Just taking the figures published by them it is easy to calculate that there are only 0.02% people with disabilities who use this so called ‘accessible transport system’ to travel.

The pavements in Delhi are been refurbished and most with tactile guidance and ramps at the beginning and end. The amazing part is that the guidance breaks whenever there is an obstacle in the path like trees, poles etc., hence ensuring people with blindness bang into them and majority of the ramps are blocked by bollards, through which a wheelchair cannot pass.

I wonder when will people with disabilities stop compromising and accepting shoddy solutions to improve access. The UNCRPD talks about ‘Persons with disabilities to have access, on an equal basis with others’. It’s time we demanded it.


D8/8073 Vasant Kunj

New Delhi  110070

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

Animal Kingdom at Palace Cinemas Norton Street

My wife and I went to see Animal Kingdom today at Palace Cinemas Norton Street in Leichhardt. Rather than reviewing the movie, which others have done far better than I can, I’ll review the access.

The front doors from Norton Street are manual and very heavy. They’d be possible to handle alone, but not easily. The lift, located immediately to the right of the entry doors, is small but the buttons are within easy reach, and thankfully you don’t need to turn around – you come in through the front and out through the back.

Tickets are sold in any of three locations – one just as you enter on street level, and two locations upstairs. If, as today, tickets are being sold at the bar, you can take the opportunity to grab a wonderful variety of treats and drinks – far better than the regulation choc-tops you see in larger cinemas. And a boon for me – I could smell no popcorn.

There are only two cinemas and both are a short wheel from the lift. You sit in the back row but the cinema is small so it’s not a problem. I actually prefer that to being right at the front and needing to crane your neck to see.

Apologies to those who take less interest in the intricacies of disabled toilets than me, but the toilets at Palace Norton Street are excellent. First, there’s a very welcome sign on the door. ‘These toilets are for the use of disabled patrons only’. So there’s no waiting in a queue while half the cinema use the loo. Moreover, they are very thoughtfully designed, with an inward opening door, wheel-under sink, low mirror, and everything where you can reach.

In summary, the access compares well to major multiplexes, with the shorter distances involved a major plus. And it’s far, far cooler.

It was funny, as we sat waiting for the feature to start, we watched an ad for a restaurant nearby. The final line in the ad was ‘great to enjoy with anyone’. Sorry, not me. I know where that place is and, like too much of Norton Street, there’s no access.

Almost forgot the movie. I’ll give a one word review – brilliant. Go see it.

Jun 10

Trees at Wahroonga Station

In today’s SMH Online edition, an article by Peter Hawkins…

Also found here:

Unkindest cut for historic north shore fig trees

ANGRY residents could only watch as three historic fig trees were chopped down by RailCorp on Sydney’s upper north shore yesterday.

Workers with chainsaws felled the 100-year-old trees at Wahroonga station despite pleas from residents and a report asking for alternative measures to be investigated.

RailCorp said the trees had to be removed so the platform could be properly resurfaced and the roots did not cause further structural damage.

But a tree management plan commissioned by the heritage branch of NSW Planning said that, given the heritage significance of the trees and their amenity value, ”consideration should be given to their retention”.

The report’s author, Andrew Morton, asked for the installation of root control barriers to be investigated and tested to stop pavement damage.

Among those campaigning for the trees’ preservation was NSW Opposition Leader and state member for the area Barry O’Farrell.

But NSW Premier Kristina supported their removal, claiming the damage caused by the roots was a hazard for people pushing prams and those in wheelchairs.

Two other trees on the station platform will be cut down in October. All will be replaced by new trees and plants.

Ian Burt, who has lived in Wahroonga for 40 years, said the lack of pruning over the past 20 years was to blame for the damage.

”It is disgraceful they are chopping them down,” he said. ”If they had continued to trim the branches, the roots would never have come up.”

I noted in particular the Premier’s remarks that the trees were ‘a hazard for people pushing prams and those in wheelchairs’. Last time I looked (5 minutes ago) Wahroonga Station was not accessible. Sounds like a lame excuse.

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.

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.

Jun 10

Small Steps, Big Barriers

An edited version of this post appeared on the Letters page of the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 May 2010.

There’s been lots of discussion in the Sydney media about ‘universal design’ and Federal Government policy in the last couple of weeks.

Cynthia Banham waxed lyrical in the SMH (24 May 2010) about Bill Shorten and his efforts to introduce universal design principles to new houses built in Australia. Here’s the article, which can also be found here:

You never plan for a life-changing injury. It’s something you just hope never happens. Growing old is more of a certainty. But both events can have a profound impact on the way you feel about your home: a sanctuary, or a kind of prison.

I know this first-hand. Catastrophic injuries from a plane crash changed my world forever. If not for the efforts of a family friend, a builder who extensively modified my home while I was still in hospital, I would not have been able to get in the front door, let alone my kitchen or shower.

But what really came as a shock was the impact my injuries had on visiting family and friends. Dropping in for a meal or a cup of coffee, to stay connected to people, is essential to a person’s mental well-being. Yet here I was, left in tears on a visit to my in-laws from the indignity of not being able to use their bathroom without help, unable to visit my parents’ home where I’d grown up because I couldn’t climb the stairs to their front door.

We have laws about accessibility standards in public spaces, but for private homes there are none and I never imagined this would change.

Then eight months ago Bill Shorten, the parliamentary secretary for disabilities, asked me to speak at a meeting he had organised, with Therese Rein as patron, for executives from the housing industry and the ageing, disability and community sectors, at Kirribilli House.

The subject was “universal design” – building a house to last its occupants’ lifetimes so whatever happens, should they get injured or grow old, they will still be able to live independently.

If we introduced some minor, inexpensive changes to the way Australia builds homes – changes many times more expensive if done retrospectively – then no house need be a prison. Making houses accessible from the street or car park, slightly widening front doorways and passages, putting a toilet on the ground floor that could be used by someone with mobility issues.

I agreed, intrigued something could be done to improve the lives of 20 per cent of the Australian population with some kind of a disability, and encouraged this concept could have economic and social benefits for all.

Universal design ideas are already being implemented overseas, in Japan, Britain, Canada and Norway. They are gaining traction in Victoria.

What is the appeal? Like Australia, these places have ageing populations. Given the option, most would prefer to grow old in their own homes, retaining connections with family and social networks where they have spent their lives. But with the majority of homes, this is virtually impossible for older people with mobility issues.

It doesn’t stop there. A house built for a lifetime would be easier for mothers with prams and people with temporary injuries.

I started out thinking it was an extremely lofty ambition to get this diverse group to agree there was a case for universal design in Australia. The Property Council of Australia, the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders Australia, the Australian Institute of Architects and the Human Rights Commission are unlikely allies.

But Shorten is a superb negotiator, and the determination he has shown over the past three years to fight for a better deal for some of the less lucky Australians is remarkable.

The final details are being nutted out, but soon this dialogue will deliver concrete proposals to the government. These professionals have surprised even themselves with their ability to reach common ground on an issue that for many will be life-changing, in a good way.

Critics might say they don’t want to be told by governments how to build their homes, or they don’t want to live in houses resembling hospitals. That’s not what this is about. Making a doorway a few centimetres wider does not make a house more sterile, just more liveable.

Is it really that big an ask of Australians to give a damn about their fellow citizens with physical limitations, but still want to engage as fully in society as you, their friends, colleagues, families and neighbours?

You never know, one day you might just grow old.

I’m less in awe. Universal design principles are sensible, modest, but far from new. As Banham correctly points out, a number of countries have introduced them already. So why has Shorten set an ‘aspirational goal’ of all new homes to be of agreed universal design standards by 2020? Remember, this is not about retro-fitting an existing stock of buildings – it’s simply about ensuring new buildings conform to a new standard. Shorten himself argues that these are ‘a few simple design features’. So why must we wait? 

Shorten has appointed a working party to codify national standards but the working party has a very limited brief. There is no talk of encouraging – by incentive or requirement – even the most modest changes to existing houses. State and Federal Governments provide incentives and rebates to fit all manner of water and energy-saving devices, but if you want to remove an unnecessary single step at the front of your house and build a ramp to provide universal access, you’re on your own.

Similarly, small businesses, especially retailers, are provided with no incentives to make their buildings universally accessible. At my local shops, the cafe and the butcher have taken it upon themselves to remove steps at the front of their premises, and the deli owner installed an accessible toilet. But the newsagent has not removed a single 10cm step so I can’t buy a newspaper. In nearby suburbs, such as Concord in Sydney’s inner-west, you can see evidence of co-operation between business and the local council delivering excellent access to shops and restaurants in the form of disabled parking, easy street crossings, footpath dining and ramped access. But in other nearby suburbs, such as Leichhardt, you see no such partnership and much of Norton Street remains inaccessible. These issues cry out for a national approach. Why does Bill Shorten not take an interest? As Cynthia Banham also correctly identifies, these things are essential for staying connected to society. 

Shorten’s working party was announced on 27 October last year with the aim of achieving ‘substantial progress’ within 6 months. 7 months have now passed. Perhaps the progress has met Shorten’s definition of substantial. Banham says the details are still being ‘nutted out’ but proposals will be made to government soon. If the Government is returned, I guess we may see some progress in the next term.

Don’t get me wrong, Bill Shorten has done more to move disability issues forward than ministers before him. My beef is that his steps are small. And as anyone with mobility issues knows, a small step can remain a big barrier.

May 10

A review of Clark Bay Cottages – Narooma

This post appeared in a different version in the magazine Out & About With Kids – highly recommended. Visit

The advertising flyer for Clark Bay Cottages says ‘another day in paradise’ and that parallels my memory of Narooma; the town where I grew up, but then spent 20 years away. Those memories were long before having kids, long before our son, Daniel, was diagnosed with Autism, and long before I used a wheelchair. I was fascinated to see how it would work now.

Clark Bay Cottages

Clark Bay Cottages

Family holidays can be a challenge for us, especially finding suitable accommodation. As well as needing wheelchair access, we need to satisfy Daniel’s sensory needs. He loves water, so we need a pool. He loves being in the bush, so we look for a bush setting. Above all, he needs space – to run, jump, yell … and just to be free and safe. Clark Bay Cottages are ideal. The pool is gorgeous, looking as it does over Wagonga Inlet; one of the prettiest stretches of water you’ll find. There’s also a mechanical hoist into the pool and spa. The entire place is ramped, allowing a wheelchair user to explore any part of the facilities, including the games room and tennis courts.

Clark Bay Pool

Clark Bay Pool

Clark Bay is set on 20 acres of partially-cleared temperate rainforest, so there are many places to bushwalk, explore and just be close to nature. It is incredibly quiet. Often, the only sound is bellbirds calling. We noticed how calm and relaxed Daniel was there and wondered how much the stress and noise of the city affects his behavior.

Narooma also claims to have the mildest climate in the country, and it’s a claim I believe.

The four cabins have been built on ‘universal design’ principles, which means they are completely wheelchair-friendly, including rails in the bathroom, wheel-under kitchen benches and one cabin has a hoist from bedroom to shower. There are many other thoughtful touches, including electromagnetic cooktops, fully adjustable kitchen benches, 1/4 turn batwing taps and electronically adjustable beds. Despite these excellent facilities, nothing about Clark Bay Cottages is unsuitable for families without special needs. For most families, it’s just a great place for a holiday.

The town of Narooma is also a surprise. It’s a hilly place, but the local council and businesses have done a great job of making nearly everything accessible including shops, cafes (including some very good coffee) and services. Every park we visited (there are several excellent playgrounds and picnic spots right by the water) had accessible toilets. A special treat is the boardwalk that has been built from the centre of town, north to Bar Beach; a distance of six kilometres. It’s all accessible and hugs the water the whole way. While undertaking this walk, our kids were fascinated to watch a huge Stingray feeding in the shallows.  

Narooma is a little far from Sydney (5 hours drive) to receive weekend visitors. And that’s part of the beauty of the place. Life moves at a different pace there. Once you’ve arrived, reward yourself and stay a week.

May 10

Million Paws Walk – Sydney Olympic Park

They call it the ‘friendliest event of the year’ and this is one case where the spin meets the substance.

Let me explain.

I walk our dog, Blossom, a 2 ½-year-old Golden Retriever, most days. She’s a good girl now, well past her rambunctious puppy stage, and unless she spots a cat sunning itself, is happy to trot along at a fair pace beside my powerchair. She rarely pulls, sits for road crossings, and joyously says hello to any dog we pass on the footpath (even the small yappy ones who look more like lunch than dogs). People often mistake her for an assistance dog, and she plays along.

The bane of any trip is when she stops to answer the call of nature. Remarkably, she manages to do this nearly every trip, no matter of the time of day or night, or when she has previously eaten. She seems to bottle it up all day. I’m a responsible dog owner, so I always carry bags and a pooper scooper, as I can’t reach the ground from my chair. But it’s a bit of a business, requiring dexterity, especially in a wind. And all the while I’m trying to coordinate bag and scooper, Bloss stands impatiently, whimpering as if she has no idea what has possessed me to stop and pick up this rubbish from the medium strip.

It’s funny, but no-one ever stops to offer to help with this task, even other dog walkers passing by. That’s fine; I don’t ask for help, but it is surprising. In the rest of my life, people offer help all the time. If I stop to adjust my feet on the footplate, someone appears and asks if I’m ok. Ditto if I get a text message and stop to answer it.

Which brings me back to the Million Paws Walk.

This year, as Bloss and I were travelling just in front of ANZ Stadium, en route to the starting point, she stopped and squatted. As I reached for my bags, a guy came out of nowhere and said ‘no problem mate, I’ve got it’. I thanked him profusely and we continued our journey. The friendliest event of the year had lived up to its slogan.

The Walk is held at Sydney Olympic Park, so as well as being dog heaven, it’s a wheelie paradise. Everything is accessible, there are accessible toilets everywhere, there are even places to stop and recharge. The Walk takes you from The Overflow, out through the Wetlands, and back past the Brickpit. It’s a pretty 4km walk, on a stable dirt surface, all with a gentle gradient, and easy in a chair or on a scooter.

Back at The Overflow, there are displays and dog washing, and lots for the kids to do. All up, it’s a great day out for the whole family, regardless of whether they have 2 or 4 legs, or wheels.

Apr 10

Paradise Afloat – Houseboating on the Hawkesbury River

When an old mate from university contacted me and said he wanted to get a group together for a boys’ fishing weekend on a houseboat on the  Hawkesbury River, just north of Sydney, my immediate reaction was to politely say ‘no thanks’. When he further informed me that he’d found an accessible houseboat, I was alarmed. Most non-wheelies definition of accessible is very different to my needs. I asked him a few questions, and when his response was ‘don’t fret; you’re not heavy, you’re our brother’ I said ‘ok, I’m in’ and decided to figure out the practicalities later.

I need not have worried. Paradise Afloat Houseboats, based at Lower Portland in the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury, are the first operator to focus on the needs of wheelchair-users in a houseboating environment. Their two houseboats are specifically designed and built around the needs of people with disabilities. They offer:

  • Larger hallways and doorways
  • Spacious outdoor decking areas with safety rails
  • Wheelchair-friendly layout in bathrooms and bedrooms
  • Purpose-built accessibility to kitchen & dining facilities
  • Wheelchair-friendly helm & controls so you can be Captain of your own ship

Our trusty vessel

I found most of these facilities excellent. My only complaints were that the rails in the shower were insufficient, but as this was a boys’ weekend on the river, hygiene was not high on anyone’s priorities. If we’d stayed longer, I’d have needed help to use the shower. As well, the access to the kitchen is not great, with limited circulation space and high benches. But all things considered, they have done their boats extremely well. I was also impressed with the way Kellianne (one of our hosts) responded to my constant emailed questions, and sent photos and full answers, not just perfunctory replies. That matters.

Their entire establishment at Lower Portland is also wheelchair-friendly with access ramps to all areas, restroom facilities and the licensed Paradise Café & Pizzeria (which also serves excellent chili prawns).

The crew

So for two-and-a-half days we fished, played cards, told stories, relived Glory Days, relaxed and cruised the beautiful Hawkesbury. It’s too easy to forget how relaxed you can feel in the company of friends you’ve known most of your life. While the bounty from the sea was minimal, the bounty in terms of enjoyment was plentiful.

We’ll definitely do it again, next year and hopefully every year until we are old and grey (or is that older and greyer?).

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