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Posts Tagged ‘equality’

I did say this series would be irregular! You can find the first post in this series here. I will update this post with links to the other posts as I create them. You can also keep an eye on my list of series to see when posts get added to this series.

As is no doubt apparent from the title, this post addresses mobility accessibility on Sydney buses.

Signs in mobility accessible spaces

I’d like to start off by considering this sign:

Sign at wheelchair area on bus

Sydney Bus sign at the area designated for wheelchairs

There are three parts to the sign. At the top, there is a yellow sticker with dark writing that says 'For more information on travelling with wheelchairs, seniors and prams ... go to http://www.sydneybuses.info'. There are also three graphics: a stylised stick figure in a wheelchair; a stylised person wearing a dress with a jutting hip, cane and bag; a stylised pram.

Underneath that sticker, there is white writing directly on the glass. This says 'This area should be vacated by passengers when required for a wheelchair'.

Beneath that is a blue and white sticker. In the centre is a stick figure in a wheelchair. To the left, the writing: 'FOR SAFETY: wheelchair brakes must be applied while bus is in motion.' To the right, the writing: 'FOR SAFETY: wheelchairs must face the rear'.

I suspect the problems I see with this sign says a lot about Sydney Buses’ attitude towards people with different mobilities.

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This post is the first in an irregular series about accessibility and Sydney’s public transport. I will update this post with links to the other posts as I create them. The second post is here. You can also keep an eye on my list of series to see when posts get added to this series.

One thing that I particularly enjoy when I visit another place is figuring out how to use the public transport system. I like the fact that I can figure it out – that the tools provided are tools I am able to use. Some of the tools which are commonly available (sometimes online) are: timetables and route maps, route diagrams at stations/stops and in the relevant vehicle, stop announcements (visual and audio), signs at stations/stops.

Perhaps it’s ironic, but I think that Sydney is one of the worst places I’ve been when it comes to figuring that sort of thing out. This has a serious impact on the accessibility of our public transport.

It seems to me that the people who will have the most difficulty with accessibility in that regard are (in no particular order): (1) people with visual difficulties of various sorts; (2) people who have difficulty with certain processes (including people who find change difficult or confronting); and (3) people who have difficulty talking to strangers.

What follows is a general summary of the characteristics of public transport in Sydney which may cause those accessibility problems, and then a more specific discussion of the relationship between those characteristics and the people who have the general accessibility difficulties I’ve stated above. It’s quite a long post – that’s because there are a lot of accessibility problems!

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There’s an interesting article in the Guardian today about a report which demonstrates a 17 year gap in the ‘disability-free life expectancy’ of the withs and withouts in the UK. That’s an enormous gap!

This quote caught my eye:

The report says the conditions in which people are born, live, work and age, shape their health; what is needed is a reduction in the iniquities in power and money that benefit the rich from birth.
[emphasis added]

Yes, I would agree that disparities in power and money are iniquitous. I don’t think it’s quite what they meant to say, but it seems appropriate!

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An article in the Sydney Morning Herald today states that a healthy diet will cost a “typical” welfare-dependent family of four approximately 40% of their average income.

This, presumably, is a bad thing, because 40% is a significant proportion. A large chunk of the rest would probably be covering your accommodation. You’re not left with a whole lot more.

There’s not really a lot of analysis about what this means for how less-well-off families might make decisions about purchasing food. Nothing about how the cost of a healthy diet might be reduced.

There is, however, this statement at the end of the article:

The convener of the food and nutrition special interest group of the Public Health Association, Andrea Begley, said she supported a food tax and subsidies for lower-income families, particularly given rising obesity rates among lower socio-economic groups.

Because the solution to high cost of healthy food is to make the other food options even more expensive, in a paternalistic example of social manipulation?

I’m all for assisting people to eat a healthier diet if that’s what they want to do, especially if what’s stopping them is the high cost. So subsidies might be good. However, I’m not in favour of this kind of paternalistic “let’s force them to spend nearly half their income on the food we think they should be eating” attitude. That implies a certain level of judgmentalism, and I’m seriously not in favour of that!

(Oh, and gotta love how they throw in the OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA at the end.)

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You might have heard the name Kurt Fearnley. He’s an Australian Paralympic athlete (marathon) who recently took on the Kokoda Track. He usually uses a wheelchair. The Kokoda Track is hardly wheelchair accessible. Fearnley walked on his arms.

Fearnley took a Jetstar flight on his way home, and staff insisted that he check in his wheelchair and use an airline-supplied one. Fearnley refused to accept the alternative wheelchair, and instead, used his arms to move himself around the airport.

His reasoning? From the ABC piece linked above:

“An able-bodied equivalent, a normal person’s equivalent would be having your legs tied together, your pants pulled down and be carried or pushed through an airport.”

I am entirely prepared to accept his assessment that using the airline-supplied wheelchair would be a humiliating experience which would have robbed him of his mobility and independence. I have two reasons why I’m prepared to accept it. First, and most importantly, it’s Fearnley’s own account of his experience. To deny it would be to deny that he felt that way, and I’m simply not in a position to do that. Can’t imagine anyone is, quite frankly. Secondly, and much LESS importantly, it actually makes a hell of a lot of sense from an objective perspective that, yes, having someone remove your mobility aid would be humiliating and would rob you of your mobility and independence.

Fortunately, the general atmosphere is one of accepting Fearnley’s experience, and Jetstar has apparently apologised. The ABC article quotes Bill Shorten, and an SMH article quotes Joe Hockey as well as Shorten, and both seem outraged that Jetstar treated Fearnley in this matter.* It’s great that there’s bipartisan recognition that treating people who use wheelchairs like shit is a Bad Thing.

It also allows us to focus on the details of how that acknowledgement is made, in some of which there is Fail.

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Christian Rossiter is dead. RIP.

I stayed out of the debate about Rossiter’s win in the Supreme Court at the time, partly because I didn’t have the time to get involved in the discussion in the depth it deserves, but also because it is quite a painful issue for me.

My grandmother chose to die by rejecting all food, water and medical treatment except morphine.

It only took her two days to die because she was so frail by that stage, and that was bad enough.

Her decision was a completely conscious choice to die, and something that I supported at the time (and still support) in the context, because she clearly did not want to live the only way she had the choice to live. But that needs to be contextualised, and I think it highlights some of the issues that Lauredhel outlined in the post I’ve linked above. I think they’re worth talking about again.

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Wow! Another person in authority espousing another radical* notion! That’s two this week!

As per the following extract from an article in The Australian:

Mr Combet, a former ACTU national secretary, told parliament yesterday the Defence Science and Technology Organisation would develop a new set of physical employment standards for the army that would accurately measure a person’s ability to perform the broad variety of jobs in the modern defence force. “A priority of the government is to improve the recruitment and retention of women in the ADF,” he said. “My own view is that all categories should be open to women. The only exceptions should be where the physical demands cannot be met according to criteria that are determined on the basis of scientific analysis, rather than assumptions about gender.”

So in other words: let’s look at what the job actually requires, rather than the gender marker on your driver’s licence (or other form of identification).**

* Yes, that’s sarcasm again.

** Trying to work out how to say this in a cis/trans neutral way made me realise: I have no idea what the ADF’s stance is on permitting trans people (men or women) – or intersex people – to do the various jobs women (in general) are not permitted to do. Now that could make for an interesting case!

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