David Penberthy: Dignity Difficult for Disabled when Basic Needs aren’t met

Asfar as signs of the times go, those new stickers which have cropped up on the bumper bars of disabled motorist’s cars say a lot about a bleaker aspect of our community.

The stickers — which read “Check the permit not the driver” — have presumably been introduced because able-bodied motorists have been firing up at disabled motorists who, in their view, don’t look quite disabled enough.

It is hard to fathom why anyone with the use of both arms and legs would waste a second even thinking about whether someone is handicapped enough to use a disabled spot.

Let alone giving them a spray for daring to use a disabled park, which are only available to those who are physically incapable of using public transport.

At their most selfish these people even regard disabled spots as a “perk” of being handicapped.

If it is a perk — and it isn’t, it’s a necessity — it is hard to think of others.

I spent some time last weekend pushing my wife around in a wheelchair and the experience was illustrative, and not in a good way.

As anyone who has broken their leg knows, crutches suck, and the rental wheelchair I hired from the local pharmacy for 40 bucks a week seemed like a handy way to get us from A to B.

For the first time in my life I have realised that for the wheelchair-bound the shortest distance between A to B involves going to C, D and E, all the way up to X, Y and Z, then backwards again, only to find out that you can’t get to B that way anyway.

It was at the new Adelaide Oval last Saturday where the realities of life in a wheelchair became frustratingly obvious.

The stadium is magnificent but it’s a whole lot less magnificent if you’re in a wheelchair. Everything is less magnificent.

All the lavish infrastructure we have in this affluent country is great until you try to negotiate when incapacitated and on four wheels. Even gutters seem to be a conspiracy against the disabled.

There is nothing especially wrong with the oval in terms of disabled access.

And that’s the problem. It is no better and no worse than every other edifice out there which meets a government-mandated standard for disabled access, a standard which is still so inadequate that it must drive disabled people spare.

The biggest mistake a wheelchair-bound person can make at the new oval is to get onto the wrong level in the grandstand and then try to make their way to their seat.

It took us 40 minutes to get from the eastern entrance to our seats on the western side.

We ended up on the wrong level and tried to locate a ramp right along the western side, only to find staircases at every turn. When we got in a small lift to go back down to the ground level, we couldn’t get it to work. Then after we were helped by a kindly security guard we managed to get back down to ground, then up to level four, and negotiated the crowd to our seats.

After spending the first half of the game jammed into the seat like a pretzel, my wife decided to go and sit one of those blue painted rectangles with all the other wheelchair-bound people — people who, unlike her, face a lifetime in a chair.

One of them made a pointed remark, which goes to the heart of why even someone who is temporarily incapacitated can never truly understand what life must be like for the permanently immobile. “At least you’ll get better,” she said drily.

There’re not that many issues in public policy which I overly care about — indeed I think cuts have to be made to get us back towards a surplus — but the one thing which I reckon should be a bedrock in our society is the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The current softening-up about cost overruns and dodgy modelling seems to be aimed at winding it back.

What a joke it will be if we gut it or scrap it, at a time when, apparently, we can still find $5.5 billion a year to hand rich mums in the flash suburbs $75K a year so they can spend it at Pumpkin Patch on their beloved bub.

Explain that to the woman in the wheelchair who will never get better.

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Accessibility, Access, Inclusion, Arts, Culture, Sport, Recreation

David Penberthy

The Australian

Date published:
Thu 10th Apr, 2014