Written by Tammy Milne – PDA’s TAS Associate Director
Today I caught a bus. So what’s so unusual about that you ask, when millions of people all around the world do it everyday!
What makes it unusual is that I was able to catch a bus because the infrastructure, the bus and the bus stop were accessible to me and my wheelchair.
I was able to catch a bus, go out for dinner and on to see a movie. That is freedom, that is choice and that is control! I am the master of my environment in this small way in this instance, when all the stars align or more pointedly when government, bus companies and councils work together to make sure that transport is accessible to everyone.
This occasion was anomalous, not the ordinary and certainly not something to be taken for granted. There are thousands or at least hundreds of variables that stand in the way of this being an ordinary, everyday occurrence for all people with disabilities.
The Bus Stops. Their placement geographically is a variable that cannot be ignored. If the bus stop is on a steep gradient on a street then the bus ramp is inoperable and/or dangerous to use. This stops people with disabilities using the bus.
But I have seen wondrous engineering skills implemented to ‘fix’ this situation. Bus stops with elevated and flattened boarding points on the street. So really the only impediment to all Bus Stops being accessible is funding and skilled engineering.
The Bus. As yet we still do not have 100% accessible transport in this country. In some areas it’s close, but even 1% or 5% of inaccessible buses can mean someone is left on the side of a road because they can’t get on. They are unable to access their community and their lives are not the same as those who can easily hop on that bus.
The Other Passengers. Those seats with the little wheelchair sign are dedicated for PWD, not crabby teenagers, or lazy people who like the first seat they can find. The other day I was on a bus and a young man was busily playing on his phone as I tried to manoeuvre into the wheelchair section of the bus. He occupied one section, sprawled on his seat. He either didn’t notice the amount of times I had to reverse and go forward, reverse and go forward and still be unable to get into the space or he didn’t really understand that he was impeding my access. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he had a disability. However, when his stop came and he bounced off the bus I was crabby.
So, young man on the 501 to North Hobart, check your privilege and also (unlike toilet seats where you put them down after using as a courtesy) return the bloody bus seat to an upright position. Have you ever tried to lift those seats up from your wheelchair? Often all six of them? It’s hard and can’t be done without assistance. So people please make sure those seats are put back up again. In Melbourne I have noticed that the seat automatically returns to the upright position once the person leaves their seat. Food for thought Transport Tasmania?
The wheelchair. It has become a ‘thing’ where well meaning professionals prescribe wheelchairs that are great at home, at the theatre in many other situations – but they are large, heavy and are not suited to travelling on a bus. So whilst they may well be extremely comfortable to sit in at the theatre, the act of getting to the theatre may be another story. If it’s too big for a bus, or if I don’t have transport of my own (such as a custom car or van), then is it really fit for purpose? Is my life really better off with it?
So it seems a missing piece in the consideration of our transport needs lies in whether our wheelchairs are actually fit for purpose and able to be used and transported. This is an issue for professionals, manufacturers and PWD themselves to advocate for more innovation in this space. We want wheelchairs that are fit for purpose and that easily allow us to access our communities. Make them lighter, more comfortable, more durable and suitable to use on public transport. There should be NO compromises. You should not have to give up catching a bus because your new $20,000 wheelchair is not fit for purpose and possibly requires you to access an additional $75,000 because you need a purpose-built van to carry it and this van requires an additional person to drive it – further diminishing your independence and adding to your cost of living.
As you see the price of freedom has many and varying costs, but none are insurmountable with greater thought, planning and engineering solutions. I want to continue to travel with my trusty, Green Card for all zone cost of $1.92. I want to save the environment by not using a car. I want to stop congestion by not taking up road space. I want to free up parking in the CBD and I don’t want to have to pay for it either.
I want my freedom at all costs.